How You, the Local Business Owner, Can Take on Amazon
You're a small retailer, and you're nervous about Amazon.com. Well, you shouldn't be.
Sure, they're a giant, and aggressive. Yes, people may be able to find the same products you sell for a cheaper price on Amazon. Many may not have a problem waiting a day or two to have it shipped to them (oftentimes for free).
Yeah, yeah, Amazon's got the money, the resources, the technical know-how, the brand, the buzz and the media's ear. You're just running your little shop on Main Street. But so what? You can still beat Amazon. Here's how:
1. Build a community. Remember, you're part of your local community. Deep down, people like to support their local community. They know that the more nice shops (like yours) that there are in their town, the more attractive their community is (hint: higher real estate values).
Your job is to be an active member of your community. You must be involved in groups, chambers, organizations. That Bezos guy can't be everywhere, can he? You may want to advertise locally. You should have stories written about you in the local paper. You know your community better than Amazon does. Exploit that.
2. Get a customer-relationship-management (CRM) system. It's just a simple database. Try inexpensive products such as Zoho, Nimble or Insightly. Then build your database. Collect the names, addresses and emails of anyone who comes into your store. Use your CRM system to create lists so that you can communicate with your customers.
Keep tabs on what they buy, what they like, who they're related to. Remember their birthdays. Send them a coupon. Amazon does this on a worldwide scale (hint: product suggestions based on prior purchases). But you can make this much more personal.
3. Go mobile. Look into great all-in-one online services such as LocalVox and Demandforce. This way your website will be optimized for smartphones, you can be found quicker, manage your online advertising, Facebook and Twitter communications will improve and you can offer coupons and other incentives.
4. Educate. You are not a retailer -- you are an expert in your field. You know more about the products you provide than Amazon does, so prove it!
Leverage your CRM data and educate your customers. Send out monthly emails with tips and other advice. Use mailing and print services to catch their attention. Hold events at your store. Teach them how to use your products. Bring in experts. Serve shots of Tequila, and when your visitors get drunk, make them buy your stuff (OK, just kidding about that one).
Consider hiring a part-time writer or college student to help you with your content. Get helpful information out to anyone in your database, Facebook friends and Twitter followers. They will appreciate it. They will pay a little more for this.
5. Partner with others. How many other retailers are scared of Amazon? Lots. But now you know not to be. So spread the word. Take a walk around your strip mall or Main Street. Have everyone make up flyers. Offer flyers for other stores in your store. Cross-sell. Share advertising costs. Send leads to them. They'll send leads back to you. Invite them to participate in your events. Have them co-write some blogs. You're all in it together. And together you can beat Amazon.
6. Give your products away. The one thing that Amazon doesn't have is an actual, physical location. You do! Put lots and lots of samples on the shelf. Encourage your customers to play, test, try them out, maybe even take something home for a night. Let them kick the tires. Don't be afraid of them "showrooming."
If your price is in the neighborhood, showing them enough attention and you're an active business in the local community they'll buy from you. If they don't after doing all of that, then well, to hell with them.
7. Be more convenient. Amazon is always going to be more convenient than you because they're online 24/7. But you can still be convenient -- enough. Here's a hint: most people work between 8 a.m. and 5 p.m., so for God's sake consider opening up early and closing up late. You may need to keep things open on Saturdays and Sundays.
While you're at it, you should make sure your website is ready to take orders just like Amazon. That means investing in a person to take responsibility for it and keep it updated. Welcome to 2014.
8. Finally, put your face on your business. If you look at my website you'll see a big picture of me on the homepage. I know -- it's a face for radio. And no, I wasn't George Costanza's body double, OK?
I believe that a small business' biggest brand is the business owner. I don't want to just buy from my local retailer. I want to know who he or she is. I want to know if there's a problem there will be a person, the owner, who will take care of it and show me a little TLC.
Amazon's got customer service reps half-way across the universe fielding your calls. But you are right here in town ready to help! So blend your business and you together. It will make a difference.
Amazon? Meh -- I've seen better. You're better.
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