Here's an article I wrote recently that helps smaller retailers compete. I hope it's helpful to you.
What Big Online Retailers Don't Want You to Know
By Derek Vaughan
Are you operating a small or medium-sized online retail store? Have your ecommerce efforts been thwarted by a big online retailer? If so, take heart! Things aren't as bad as they might seem. In fact, instead of being intimidated by the big online retailers you should welcome the opportunity to compete with them! Here are some things that they won't tell you that could give you a real advantage when trying to gain more ecommerce customers at their expense.
Here are some of the things that the big online retailers don't want smaller competitors to know that they're saying behind your back:
"We're concerned that you can look just as big as us online"
Think about it for all the time, money, resources, and energies that go into the website of a large online retailing operation they still have most of their traffic landing on their home page. It's the same with you, the small online retailer. When a potential online buyer looks at your home page, they can easily think that you are much larger than you really are. How do you tell the difference between a one-person operation, a ten-person operation, or a large retail site? It's hard even for professionals. One key point here: make sure that your home page design and layout measure up to the current standards of professionalism in the industry today.
"You might be better at reaching a niche audience"
Giant online retailers need to reach giant audiences in order to achieve their sales goals. For the most part they aren't even interested in a smaller niche audience. Large online retailers are looking for search terms and advertising buys that will attract the largest possible pool of potential buyers to their site. You, on the other hand, can be far more selective in your choice of products offered, keywords targeted, and where you choose to advertise. In addition, you can select target audiences who may purchase more expensive products in smaller volumes, or who will be much more loyal buyers and repeat purchasers.
"We can't deliver personalized service like you can"
Similarly, the larger the company, the harder it is to give truly outstanding and personalized service. As a small online retailer, you can actually get to know your customers. In fact you must get to know your customers in order to keep them from straying to a larger competitor with lower prices on the same items. There are so many different and unique ways to really embrace your buyers! Here are a few: send an extra special little gift each time someone buys; collect your buyers birth dates and send them a birthday present on that special day; keep their information in a special place so that when they contact you they get a personal response in the fastest possible time; note buyer preferences and send them a personalized note informing them of new products that are of interest to them. You can think up many more ways to give personalized service for your site if you spend some time pondering it.
"You can rank higher in key search engines than us"
Some large retailers have a great search engine marketing and search engine optimization strategy many do not. A great leveler of the playing field with regard to online buyers is your search engine presence. You will gain market share at the expense of the large online retailers if you rank higher than they do on key search terms at key search engines. Make certain that you understand and implement professional search engine marketing strategies. Study search engine optimization techniques. Understand paid inclusion programs. Gain expertise in pay per click marketing engines such as Google AdWords and Overture. When buyers use search engines to look for your products and services make certain that your results are visible whether in paid or organic listings.
"Our online operations are a neglected step-child in our company"
A huge advantage that the smaller online retailer holds is simply the focus on the business and the commitment to success. Most online retailers were bricks-and-mortar' players long before their forays into the online space. Therefore, all of their operations were originally developed for an offline world. Further, the original bricks-and-mortar' component of the company may actually be jealous of the fast growth and success of the online retailing component leading to internal bickering and power struggles. One thing is for certain: both the small online retailer and the larger online retailer have had approximately the same amount of time to develop experience in online selling. Purchasing via the Internet is still relatively new and there are many differences between selling in a physical store and selling in a virtual environment. The small retailer can work these differences to their advantage. So even a prestigious and long established offline retailer may actually be playing catch-up when it comes to online retail.
Action items for the smaller online retailer
To compete against larger retailers keep the following competitive tactics in mind. Develop a professional web site and make it look just as inviting as the big player's sites. Consider focusing on a specialized or niche audience that is likely to be overlooked by larger retailers simply because the market is perceived to be too small. Differentiate by offering superior, personalized service. Make your customers so happy that they begin to talk about you to others. Master search engine optimization and search engine marketing techniques or hire professionals to help you achieve top search engine rankings. Embrace online operations and take advantage of the all the possibilities that the Internet offers to increase your sales. Good luck with your online ecommerce ventures!