Amazon is quite nearly the definition of retail success. Jeff Bezos is regularly featured on the “World’s Richest People” lists (going toe-to-toe with Bill Gates for the top spot), Amazon, as a company, continually racks up “Most Innovative Company” accolades–and beyond that, the stock price has increased more than 30% in the last five years, with sales over $100 billion. It’s clear why many retailers might look to Amazon to emulate their success.
As Amazon continues to diversify its portfolio–Echo, streaming music, streaming video, meal delivery, grocery, fashion, web services–what can you do as a retailer to stand out from the ecommerce behemoth?
Retailers won’t find success in duplicating Amazon’s scale of services. Rather, retailers can impact the marketplace–driving sales and loyalty–by differentiating themselves from Amazon in three clear ways:
1. Tout the value of your products, not just the price
For numerous reasons that are specific to each retailer’s relationship with Amazon, companies often struggle to match the prices of their products being sold on Amazon’s platform. Amazon can also sell subscriptions to products that often beat the price of a subscription sold directly from the brand.
The good news is, research has shown that while price is an important consideration when consumers are shopping for products, it’s not the only consideration.
The takeaway? Don’t compete on price. Rather, offer consumers a unique relationship with the brand that they cannot get from purchasing your product on Amazon. The key is to ensure the that the relationship is just that–a relationship, meaning a two way conversation that both parties find valuable.
When you purchase shoes directly from Brooks Running, for example, you receive a Run Happy (their company slogan) kit with inspirational stickers and goodies that reinforce their brand personality.
Another example: when you purchase snacks directly from KIND’s website, you can receive free bars to try and explore new flavors. You can also receive special offers like ten free KIND bars when you sign up for a subscription from the brand directly.
2. Connect the dots–create a solid omnichannel strategy
The importance of a company’s website is paramount, but considering how the website connects to social channels, brick-and-mortar locations and retail partners is key. Understand that your customer’s journey will likely include multiple touch points with your brand, in varying locations. Connect the dots between online and offline behavior to derive hypotheses about how consumers like to research and ultimately purchase your product.
Where you can, speak to actual consumers who experience your brand across a variety of touchpoints. In doing so, you might learn key insights. For example, you might learn that before making a purchase, some customers research products on your site so tend to find concise product descriptions to be the most useful, but will eventually make their purchase on Amazon once they see positive reviews from existing customers, building confidence in their purchase decision.
Understanding what information consumers prioritize and where they want it aids retailers in crafting more impactful communications that drive results.
L.L. Bean, for example, was just named number one in customer service by Prosper Insights & Analytics’ annual review of retailers, beating Amazon for the third year in a row. One of the key ways they have managed to distinguish themselves from Amazon is by providing incentives for consumers to purchase directly from their site. They’ve crafted unique programs like, their “Guaranteed to Last” products, touted in-store and on their website, which guarantee customers the right to return items purchased directly from L.L. Bean if they are in any way unsatisfied with a product.
3. Develop a solid testing plan to continually evolve
While you can make educated guesses about what will resonate with consumers, you will never know for sure until you test. Retailers can take advantage of the fact that they're not Amazon, and instead focus on their special sauce. While Amazon wants to be all things to all people, taking a more targeted approach as a retailer can help you carve out a brand-loyal audience and help you focus your testing efforts.
Simple A/B tests can easily be setup to determine consumer preference for call-to-action copy, for example. Retailers can also test ads driving to their websites to see if a more copy-driven message or visual one drives the highest quality traffic, for example. For more on how you can measure (and test) conversion in a more customer-centric way, check out this recent post.
The point being that putting a test plan in place will ensure that you continue to evolve based on consumer needs, not just based on business plans. There’s a sweet spot where these two factors–the customer needs and the business plans–intersect. Developing and implementing a testing plan will ensure retailers stay on top of where this intersection exists, so they maximize sales and brand advocates.
Amazon is a powerhouse and a formidable frenemy to many brands. To drive more direct sales and delight users, retailers can leverage the three recommendations above to stay competitive and truly differentiate consumers’ experience with their brand. Putting the consumer at the center of the experience, brands can deliver a specialized experience and relationship with their customers that Amazon, no matter how low their prices go, can’t compete with.