5 Branding Strategies for Smaller Online Retailers This is how smaller online retailers compete with the big guys

By Vinil Ramdev

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Just about 10 years ago, at a time when in-store purchases still dominated retail sales, some sceptics believed that e-commerce was just hype and the bubble would burst anytime.

10 years later, the bubble only seems to be getting bigger.

Worldwide e-commerce sales was estimated at USD 1672 million in 2015, and is expected to cross USD 1672 million in 2019.

Alibaba, an online marketplace, claims to have over 300 million customers. Amazon's annual revenue is over $67 billion, Apple made over $ 10 billion in revenues in online sales. Even brick and mortar stores like Walmart, and Staples clock annual revenues of over $10 billion just in online sales, according to a report on Insider Monkey.

E-commerce now seems to be dominated by some large players who control a major share of the online market.

Now, how can smaller online retailers compete with the big guys?

Here's a list of branding strategies for smaller e-commerce businesses:

#1 Money back guarantee

In the early stages of online shopping, consumers were reluctant to use their credit cards online. There was a certain level of fear. That's when "Money Back Guarantee' became popular. Most online retailers like Amazon, FlipKart, and many others still offer money back guarantees. This helps build trust. Today, customers almost expect it.

#2 Focus on a highly specific target market

Large retailers like Amazon focus on a broader mass market. Smaller retailers can focus on a highly targeted niche segment that is fairly large but not big enough for the larger players.

#3 Build a community around your brand

People are always looking to connect with each other in some way or the other. The Beetle Owners Club and Harley-Davidson Owners Group (H.O.G) are prime examples. It's much easier to build a community for a smaller brand. The community can be based online with special live events once in a while.

#4 Tell a compelling story

One of the biggest advantages of small business is when owners are directly connected to their customers. Everybody has a story to tell. Unfortunately, very few of them actually tell their story.

A good write-up about where the company started, the location of the warehouses, the mission and purpose of the company, and even little things that happen in the office and in the lives of their staff builds an emotional connect with the brand.

#5 Position yourself as a specialist

Sometimes, focusing on a narrower segment and positioning yourself as an authority in your area of expertise makes you the go-to-guy in your niche.

James Chapman, Owner of Bella Bathrooms an online retailer of bathroom fittings says, "Our focus is only on bathrooms. I've been a former plumber, and I understand the business better than anybody else.

I don't just position myself as an expert, I am the expert. When you know your trade well, you can recommend the right product to your customers. That's a big deal. I can't think of any big business that can offer such knowledgeable advice.

Customers don't mind paying a little extra for valuable information. Our expertise just sets us apart from the competition."


In an era of online commerce, it can be easy for smaller retailers to get intimidated by the bigger players. It doesn't have to be that way. Bestselling author Seth Godin said, "Small is the new big." Small businesses need to identify their niche, nurture their relationships with their customers, and know their business better than anybody else. Sometimes, it's an advantage being small and agile.

Vinil Ramdev

Entrepreneur and Business Writer

Vinil Ramdev is an entrepreneur, business writer and marketer. He graduated with a Bachelors degree in Marketing in 2004. Since then, Vinil has been involved in starting and growing several businesses predominantly in retail, marketing, media, advertising and on the internet. His skill for seeing the big picture, and identifying trends and patterns have made him a sort-after consultant for companies who want to grow their business and make their products more discoverable. 

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