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How Small Businesses Can Compete With Amazon

In an age of giants, how do small businesses remain competitive? Amazon and Walmart are two of the largest companies in the world. They spend millions on technology, innovation, marketing, and more. Whether you own a regional chain or the small shop around the corner, going up against these massive corporations may seem intimidating. Walmart drives down prices with its low-cost strategy. And, Amazon is often credited with building new customer expectations for immediate satisfaction, including speedy delivery. Where does that leave small businesses? There is still a niche in the US market for small businesses to not only survive but thrive. Several small business owners and consultants recently shared with GoShare how they use customer service and experience to set themselves apart and compete with Amazon, Walmart, and other retail giants.

Create an Elevated Experience

Carlos Castelan

Carlos Castelán, The Navio Group

Small businesses can compete with retail giants like Amazon and Walmart by providing great customer service, or an imaginative experience. Because of the ease of shopping online, customers crave an elevated physical store experience when they go shopping and this experience is difficult to replicate online or at scale. Small business that have a niche such as identifying up and coming trends or brands, providing community events in-store, or helping educate on more complex categories, complement what customers are seeking when they purchase online. An example of this: we have started to see niche retailers fill the real estate void as a result of large store closures and would expect this to continue as businesses find ways to bring people through their doors.

Customer Service Leads to Word of Mouth

Digital Ducats

Christian Carere, Digital Ducats Inc.

Small businesses can compete with the e-commerce juggernaut by branding their business through an extremely high level of customer service. When a company caters to the needs of their clients at a high level, that kind of service gets the best form of advertising: word of mouth. Tiger Fitness is one of the many companies who go head to head with Amazon. They were able to build massive social media followings by posting videos on just about every problem a client ever encountered. Whenever a client would email a question the CEO himself would take the time to post a quick one minute video to answer the question because it represented first-hand what his client’s problems were and what they needed in terms of a value-based solution. By staying very focused on the client’s needs and providing value in the content you produce, your company identity becomes branded as a company that looks after their clients at the highest level. Amazon can’t compete with that level of customer service.

Create an Experience That Can’t Be Replicated


Roberta Perry, Scrubz Body

With 3 skincare and makeup stores within 4 miles let alone Walmart and Amazon online, we have many places that could be or should be our competition. We choose not to think about that, nor worry about it, either. There will always be a bigger alternative. But there never will be a better one, and that is what we pride ourselves on.

Our customers not only get the best in handcrafted natural skincare, but they get the “us” behind the brand too. They get owners who care about them. Who understands exactly what they are looking for and serve that need? They get the ultimate in customer care and service. Sometimes we might throw in a free gift or a free hand scrub. Sometimes we will open early or stay open late because they needed to get here before work or got stuck in traffic. We bring items to the car if they can’t find a parking spot or have a sleeping child. Those things are priceless and build brand loyalty. These are the things that the big stores don’t offer and we do.

Personalization and Customization


Abhi Lokesh, Fracture

Staying competitive starts with truly understanding your product’s unique value proposition (UVP) and being brutally honest with yourself about where you can outdo Amazon and Walmart. If you sell a commodity product that’s manufactured in bulk quantities and are banking on beating Amazon and Walmart on price or shipping speeds, that’s not likely, and you have to reconcile with that. Move on – what else do you have? Is it your customer service? Can you personalize or customize your product on demand in ways that they can’t?

If you are selling a commodity product, consider the fact that Amazon and Walmart don’t have to be considered as solely “competition” or “the enemy”. How can you make them work for you? Would having your product on Amazon or in Walmart help position you in front of an audience that you simply couldn’t have accessed before? There’s no rule saying that you can’t sell on Amazon or in Walmart AND on your own website or in your own store. Work the system and have their platforms work for you as unique channels.

Connect with Your Customers


Antony Zagoritis, Lapigems Gem Company

Being small can be an advantage against the giants like Amazon and Walmart, if approached correctly. Don’t be intimidated. Amazon can be a very impersonal place to purchase, especially if you are buying a niche product. Concentrate on making your website more personal with multiple avenues to speak to an expert instantly. Live Chat, Toll Free numbers and which deliver good information quickly are invaluable. They allow you to connect with the customer in a way the big guys can’t. This will help you win business over the giants. Use the impersonal nature of their businesses against them.

Find an Experience that Can’t Be Automated Away


Patrick Pitman, E-business Coach, Inc

A small business cannot compete with Amazon or Wal-Mart. Find a way instead to serve customers that the mega-retailers cannot. Do that or you’re just treading water until you drown.

What Amazon and Wal-Mart can do more than you ever will is apply information technology (from comprehensive databases about prices and shopping behavior to robot automated fulfillment) at scale. A small business by definition has not, and likely cannot, scale.

So what can you do that doesn’t scale? What do you do, especially in a human-to-human context, that can never be automated away? Where do you best connect with your customer’s wish for something special? And once you do make that connection, how can you be ready and receptive to that customer’s referral to the next customer? This is thinking both at the level of systems AND interpersonal relationships at the same time.

This is not to say you cannot be smart about automation at the level of your team and resources. Yes, optimize for speed and savings and profit. But reflect upon what your best customers want that cannot be automated. Where in your experience do they go ‘Wow!’ in a way that Amazon would not promise? What is the promise that Amazon would not choose to make?

While Mega-retailers deliver on broad selection, value, speed of delivery, you can deliver on something else entirely.  For example, a jeweler I worked with found that his best customers would save up for, and wait weeks and weeks, for a personalized piece from a limited collection that cannot be bought elsewhere. What’s the analogy to your business? Seek after that or you’re sunk.

Connect with Your Customers

Marcus Clarke

Marcus Clarke,

I work with businesses day in day out that are competing giants such as Amazon. The advice that I give is always the same, niche down and become the specialist. Giants like Amazon are a jack of all trades, the opportunity lies in becoming the specialist in your area. You have to show both users and Google that you’re the expert when it comes to knowing and selling your product.

Learn More

Looking for more information about how small businesses and brick and mortar businesses can stay competitive, even in the face of retail giants? Check out these additional posts from GoShare.