Here's How Small Businesses Beat the Ecommerce Big Guys

Offer flawless service, and your customers will keep coming back.

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By Jake Rheude

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Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

Lately, ecommerce order and fulfillment seems dominated by Goliaths. In 2016, ecommerce giant Amazon set a new precedent -- delivering more than two billion items for other merchants, double the number from just one year before. It may seem like Amazon is going to gobble up all of ecommerce any day now, but as more vendors default to FBA, Fulfillment by Amazon, I see a golden opportunity to embrace smallness.

You've heard it before -- your small business's indie cred has market cache. It makes you personable, unique and accessible. It makes you desirable. And I'm here to tell you that you can have all of that plus a speedy and accurate delivery system, just like the big guys. Indie cred with two-day delivery -- the David that slays Goliath.

Related: 5 Rules for Staying Ahead in the Ecommerce Race

Here's a story: A few weeks ago I ordered a shirt from one of my favorite clothing outlets, a boutique men's apparel company called Buffalo Jackson out of rural North Carolina. Now, Buffalo Jackson does a lot of things right. Its clothing is rugged and good-looking, rough-and-tumble chic. They have a mission statement that reads like a novel, about how the owner, who was raised a "southern gentleman" became disillusioned by men's fashion and decided to create apparel that he'd be proud to wear; about how he marketed the company by word of mouth because he didn't have money for anything more than that. He ends with a call-to-action that invites you to be a part of the Buffalo Jackson family -- this, he writes, is "our story of how we began. We sure would love to have you part of it."

Buffalo Jackson has indie cred to spare. And it's appealing.

The company's mission statement coupled with a sleek and punchy website -- think black background with every model backlit by the sunset -- really brings home the personality of this small company. But this alone wouldn't keep me coming back. There are, after all, plenty of other small clothiers aiming for the same rugged aesthetic.

What does keep me coming back is how quickly I get my clothes in the mail. How they've never screwed up an order. How if the clothes don't fit well, or I just plain don't like them, I can return them easily, and I'll be reimbursed quickly. No hassle. No delay. Just like the big boys.

Related: What Small Businesses Need to Do to Win in Online Retail

How does Buffalo Jackson do it? They're careful about who they choose as their order and fulfillment vendor. A good delivery vendor can get your product to the customer as fast or faster than Amazon, and as accurately. And if you're a small retailer trying to build your base, the story behind your product isn't enough on its own -- you need to back it up with flawless service.

Here's how to compete with the big guys in ecommerce:

Build your own platform.

Relying exclusively on an Amazon listing can limit your business significantly because of Amazon's one-size-fits-all rules. To expand your reach, also consider selling on your own website. An independent site will allow you to build brand equity, create an email list of customers and pursue lucrative B2B bulk sales. Plus, you can design your product page with the perfect aesthetic to compliment your unique company.

Expand your reach.

A lot of Etsy sellers ship from small warehouses or even their home-based workshops. Problem is, that means there's inevitably a part of the country that's difficult to reach and therefore more expensive. Shipping globally? Expect a long delivery time and a hefty fee. Consider partnering with an order and fulfillment vendor to guarantee quick delivery anywhere in the country at a reasonable price -- they'll likely have reasonably priced global options, too.

Add custom inserts, holiday coupons or other unique gifts.

My recent Buffalo Jackson order came with a note inside the package -- the Teddy Roosevelt ode to determination "Man in the Arena" nicely printed on a piece of heavy stock paper. This is the kind of personal touch that can set your indie business apart from corporate giants.

Related: The Small Business Owner's Guide to Choosing the Right Ecommerce Platform

Invest in customer service.

Strong customer service is crucial, and innovations in order and fulfillment technology can help. You want a vendor that can integrate with your ecommerce platform so that you can keep tabs on an order wherever it is in the chain -- one that makes it easy for you to respond quickly to complaints, refund requests and other issues. Smart warehouse technology gives you the quick and accurate insight into your order and fulfillment process that you need to stay competitive, so make sure your vendor has that 21st century tech-savvy.

A good symptom of the rise of FBA is the concurrent rise of other players in the order and fulfillment arena. That's why it's a great time to resist the urge to join the herd, and instead find a vendor that is better equipped to help you maintain your indie uniqueness without sacrificing razor-sharp order and delivery services.

Jake Rheude

Director of Business Development & Marketing for Red Stag Fulfillment

Jake Rheude is the director of business development and marketing for Red Stag Fulfillment, which operates order-fulfillment warehouses across the United States.

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