If you’re a small fish in the big pond that is international eCommerce, it can feel like an uphill battle just getting traffic. While you’re struggling to get your own online store started, thousands of people per minute are visiting huge retailers like Amazon. What’s a small independent business to do in the face of huge online brands?
Turns out, there’s loads you can do to compete with industry giants -- it just takes knowing your strengths, your weaknesses compared to larger brands, and your audience. This week, we’ll take a look at 9 easy things you can do to make sure your small online boutique is getting the slice of that lucrative eCommerce pie!
As a small independent brand, your online boutique has a lot to offer customers. You probably offer customisation options, personalised service, and lots more that the big box stores just can’t compete with. However, let’s be honest about where you won’t be competing with the Amazons of the world: price and reach. Since websites like Amazon have such a huge reach, they can sell millions of items without ever having to market them. Since you won’t outrank them, even with the best SEO strategy, you’ll need to focus on your audience. Selling niche products -- especially things that big online retailers won’t or can’t sell, like handmade or boutique designer goods -- is a good way to compete with Amazon and their ilk. In the same vein, make sure you’re marketing to your niche customer, rather than trying to reach everyone on the internet.
Likewise, accept that you’re not going to be able to compete with big brands on prices. Small businesses don’t have the bulk buying power that huge online retailers do, so slashing your prices in an effort to compete could be small business suicide! You won’t make very much money if you cut into your profit margins too much, and you won’t be able to make it up in sales volume like Amazon can. Instead, offer your customers value in other ways.
You’ve taken the time to start your own online store, which means that you believe in the products you’re selling and know all about them. This is where you have the upper hand on stores like Amazon -- they sell everything to everyone, rather than offering specialised products and services. Branding yourself as a specialist in your field means people know they can trust you and your online boutique when it comes to your area of expertise. Are you a fashion brand? H&M can’t talk to customers personally about where their clothes were made or what inspired their collection, but you can. If you’re selling a tool, provide videos of the product in use and ideas for how it can help make DIY projects easier right on the product page. You’re competing with faceless corporations just by being yourself and being an expert on what you sell, so show off your skills and show customers you know how your products can best help them!
This tip goes hand-in-hand with branding yourself as an expert! Every online store should have a blog, but it’s especially important for newer businesses that haven’t yet established a broad customer base.
Blogs help brands establish authority in their industry, as every piece that’s posted proves that your brand is current and knowledgeable. Of course, each piece you post serves as another entrance point into your online store, which improves your search engine rankings. However, it’s not all about SEO -- focus on providing value for your customer instead of driving up traffic. Remember how we talked about providing value in other ways besides lower price to compete with big brands? This is exactly it: your blog should provide inspiration for how to use your products, insights in your industry, tips and tricks, and just generally offer something of value to your visitors.
Here are 3 crucial tips to keep in mind:
Fashion retail store Urban Outfitters have a great UO Blog, projecting bohemian hipster vibe. Blog posts focus on entertaining topics that are of huge interest to their fan base including music suggestions and artist spotlights along with the occasional product promotion.
Linking To Relevant Websites And Drive Traffic To Your Online Store
Our eCommerce blog links back to articles we have written when it makes sense to do so, but we also offer useful resources for our users at the end of our updates. This helps set you up as an authority in your field, since you’re providing interesting information from various sources, and makes sure your content marketing doesn’t feel like marketing at all.
Consider Interviewing Influencers In Your field
You don’t have to start at the very top! Contact people you’ve met at conventions or industry events, or reach out to mid- to high-level bloggers in your industry. Most people will be flattered, and they’ll probably send out the link to their followers on social media!
Another key to keeping your business competitive, even with industry giants undercutting your prices, is to create a sense of urgency that really motivates your customers to make a purchase. Think of how you feel during the holidays -- you’ve got to find the perfect gifts for all your loved ones and you don’t have much time to do it. That’s the perfect recipe for a sense of urgency that drives sales. You can harness this energy throughout the year by offering exclusive items, limited edition collectors lines, or special editions collaboration items. Online boutiques that offer handmade products have an advantage here, as each item is unique and limited in quantity. Letting your customers know that they have limited time, or you have a limited inventory, is a way to drive sales while setting your products apart from the ones sold at ubiquitous retail chains.
Online fashion store Boohoo offer limited edition collection lines a special 15% discount and for a limited time only. A great way to motivate your customers to make a purchase!
Why do your customers choose you over Amazon? Put another way, why should anyone shop with you over Amazon? Is it your story? Your designs? Your craftsmanship? Is it a certain ‘coolness factor’ that’s built into your brand, or the air of expertise and specialisation? Highlight what makes you unique.
SupaDupa helps with this in a major way, as our shop themes are all designed to be user-friendly and easy on the eyes. This is key, as your homepage is just like the window displays at brick-and-mortar stores. It should pique customers’ interest in your brand and get them curious enough to pop in and browse a bit, just like a physical window display. You’ll find customers are much more likely to stick around and browse through your inventory if your online store offers a visually appealing user experience.
The visuals of your website also increase consumer confidence: if you look like a professional online retailer, people will be much more likely to make a purchase even if they’re unfamiliar with your brand.
Speaking of consumer confidence, there’s much more you can do to ensure that people feel safe making a purchase from you than just having a pretty website:
Offer Guarantees And Return Policies
These are key when it comes to online sales, as people can’t touch or feel the item before they buy and it makes them more mistrustful overall. Many people go straight to Amazon because they know they’ll experience hassle free returns, so try to build that same sense of consumer confidence through your own return policies or money-back guarantees.
Reviews And Testimonials
These are also crucial to making customers feel confident enough to click the ‘buy’ button. Again, Amazon has already found this out -- and again, you should copy them! Read up on how to get the perfect testimonials, then post them on your product pages. If your product page is full of beautiful pictures, enticing imagery, and the social proof to back up your claims, you’ll be much more competitive.
Offer Secure Payment Options
Using a payment gateway like PayPal is a great one to use especially has they have established trust with a huge portion of online shoppers.
Every SupaDupa store using PayPal will have a clear and distinctive PayPal pay button displayed at Checkout
Service sets you apart from the large retailers. When someone has a problem with an Amazon purchase, they talk to an employee in a call centre. When someone has a problem with an order from your online shop, chances are they’ll get to talk to the CEO and Founder of the company. And, in a lot of ways, your customers are buying you when they put money into your small, independent brand. They like your story, your spirit, your aesthetic, you name it -- and they purchase a small part of that. Get to know them, make connections, and offer help above and beyond what they can get from big retailers. Offer live chat options for the hours that you can spare, or display prominently on your ‘About Us’ page that you love connecting with customers and consulting with them to ensure they pick the right product for their needs.
This is nothing new; small businesses have been competing with big retailers through excellent customer service for decades. The only thing is, now you have more tools -- email, Facebook, Twitter, etc -- to make the personal connections that will ensure you know your customers’ needs.*
Example from Bubble Tree Design Studio, a SupaDupa store by Graphic Designer and Illustrator Laura Austin. She know's how to engage with her customers on Facebook by posting meaningful updates, like where she's been featured to special offers and new designs hitting her store real soon. Check out those likes - great work Laura!
Finally, let’s just say it: you’re not Amazon and you’re not trying to be, so don’t measure your success against that of any other business. Set measurable goals for growth based on your own capabilities, and do the number crunching to see if you’re reaching them. You’ll soon see that even though the world of eCommerce seems crowded with cheaper alternatives, your online web store can compete with the best of them!