Since their start in the mid-90s, Amazon has thrived on being a company of innovation and massive growth. In its early years, they dominated the book market, trumping juggernauts like Barnes and Noble, while proactively seeking out new markets. Then in 2005, consumers were introduced to Amazon Prime, a loyalty program that would re-engineer digital eCommerce forever. Prime provided customers with free two-day shipping for an annual price of just $79. Upon rollout, tens of thousands subscribed, craving the speedy shipping and lower prices that Prime offered.
Today, there are more than 100 million Amazon subscribers in the United States and their loyalty program continues to scale at a rapid rate. They have completely changed consumer behavior, setting new expectations for online shoppers on a massive scale. Many retailers are intimidated by their sheer size and market share, which topples nearly 50% of all eCommerce sales. As if they weren’t intimidating enough, Amazon’s shadow casts even further across the eCommerce landscape as they recently announced their newest Prime benefit: 1-day shipping
So what does that mean for everyone else? You could view the glass half empty, and be overwhelmed by the size and velocity of Amazon, or you can take the glass half full approach and leverage the other 50% of that market, providing customers with something Amazon cannot: an engaging human experience.
The Current Shipping Landscape
Amazon has set the bar very high and catered to the instant gratification that users crave —they want things fast or they want things free. But if you are not a $3 billion giant, how do you provide an experience that meets the expectation that people have grown accustomed to?
For most small businesses, the cost of shipping can be significant. Not only are retailers paying for outbound shipping, but they are also shouldering the burden of returns, not to mention lost, damaged or stolen shipments that customers demand replacements for.
Most retailers simply can’t provide free shipping and free returns across the board. As a result, some may set thresholds for free shipping, or provide tiered shipping approaches. Other retailers work with multiple shipping providers that offer different shipping speeds at a cost, and some have a more flat rate approach, regardless of carrier. The combinations are endless and retailers are still searching for what works best for their customers. Meanwhile, eCommerce innovator Shopify recently announced the launch of their fulfillment network that would give merchants the ability to fulfill orders in one day and ship in two, putting them in prime position to compete with Amazon.
With all that said, there is still an opportunity to create a great experience for customers without forcing yourself to provide free or 1-day shipping. Customers will accept alternatives, even paid alternatives, if you can provide an experience that is unique and enjoyable. Customers may be willing to wait a little longer for a package in order to get the confidence in their purchase with a brand they can trust. Taking advantage of the human experience is something that Amazon cannot touch and your business can leverage.
We all know the strength and power of Amazon, but just like any business, they are weak in certain areas. It is in those weaknesses that small business owners must execute and stand out. Here are the main areas where we feel Amazon struggles:
- Personal Connection: Amazon provides little to no personal connection with their brand. They are exclusively designed for selling everything and shipping it fast.
- Post-Purchase Engagement: There is no nurturing after a purchase. Yes, there are emails, but they don’t feel personal and are driven by algorithms, not people.
- Customer Service: Their customer service is considered “decent”, only because they don’t ask questions on returns. This process is often automated on their site, filling out a survey, and printing a label.
- Trust: Recently, it has been reported that some Amazon customers could be losing trust with the brand. Customers claim they aren’t receiving their packages in the 2-day or 1-day time period that they were promised, and they aren’t being informed in a timely manner.
- While Amazon is big and powerful, the overall design of their site and post-purchase emails are lacking and dull. They don’t provide any value other than plastering products all over them without any context as to why a customer should buy.
How Retailers can Stand Out
Here are the ways that retailers can stand out against the noise of Amazon and give customers a personal experience that will keep them coming back.
One way to provide a faster and more seamless shipping experience for your customers is to automate as much of your fulfillment process as possible. By automating many of the back office processes for shipping, you can ensure that packages are getting out on time and at the lowest cost to you. Creating an automated shipping system can allow you to set up rules based on your customers’ shipping choices and then run those steps automatically.
Customers crave speed and anything you can do to create that speed, from the time a customer places an order, to the time it takes to ship, is going to help you. Create internal processes that will make this easier on you and your team and the efforts will show in customer satisfaction.
Focus on the Post-Purchase Experience
There is more opportunity than ever to capitalize on your customer’s experience after they purchase a product. Here’s how:
- Be transparent in the process. From choosing their shipping method to the notifications they get after purchase, make sure your customers are aware of every detail. For example, customers are more likely to convert if they see an estimated shipping date. Similarly, make sure they know where their package is in the process, when it ships, and when it’s delivered. Updating your customers with these details builds trust with your brand and encourages customers to continue shopping with you in the future.
- Make your packages worthy of an unboxing video. Amazon’s packaging is generic. There is nothing personal or special about the experience. We all know the hype around unboxing videos and we’ve seen the joy and delight of someone opening a package and being met with a beautifully wrapped item and a personal message. It’s the little things that customers appreciate. Take the visual elements of your brand and add them to your packaging—if you can get a customer excited about the packaging, imagine how they will feel about the product.
- Simplify the return process. Returns are a big challenge but they are inevitable. For whatever reason, there will always be a time when a customer needs to return an item, but that experience doesn’t have to be a bad one. Use the return process as another opportunity to build trust with your customers. It is imperative to make sure your return policy is clear and easy to find on your website and during checkout. Customers will hesitate if they think that they don’t have the option to change their minds. Give your customers the confidence they need and create processes that work for them. For example, “try before you buy” has become a popular tactic in fashion and apparel, where customers can receive items and try them on before their card is even charged.
Another way to streamline returns is to provide return shipping labels in the original package along with a copy of your return processes, making the expectations clear. If customers don’t have to go through the typical song and dance of returns, they may be more inclined to take a chance on you. Always try to avoid creating barriers for yourself in these processes.
Step Up Your Customer Service Game
This is one of the most important ways that smaller retailers can set themselves apart from companies like Amazon. It’s pretty simple, let your customers know that you genuinely care. The smallest action can make a huge impact. Try these approaches:
- Direct message or call customers and thank them for their purchase. Being proactive rather than reactive shows customers your dedication to their satisfaction and adds a human element to your work. Marketing aficionado, Gary Vaynerchuk talks about this on his podcast with Jon Taffer.
- Have real people available on all touchpoints of your brand. Customers should be able to choose the method they are most comfortable with. Whether that’s getting updates via social media direct message, email, or on-site chat, always make sure there is an actual human on the other end to create a genuine interaction. Nobody likes talking to a robot.
- Handwritten thank yous go a long way. Yes, this can sometimes be extra work, but there is no better feeling than receiving a personal note from the brand representative or the owner themselves. Spawning these conversations leads to more down the road.
Be Willing to Stand Out!
Being a smaller retailer has its advantages. Personality and speed are key—you are able to move quicker than Amazon and connect more authentically than them. Take advantage of all of the opportunities you have to set yourself apart with your customers. They are willing to pay a little more in shipping, maybe even wait a little longer, if they know the products they are getting and the experience you are providing is personal and authentic. Be willing to take the time to stand out and grow an intimate relationship with your customers. At the end of the day, people appreciate people and that’s worth more than 1-day shipping.
Do you want to know what it takes to rival Amazon? Register for our webinar with Shipstation where we will discuss 1-day shipping, automating shipping processes, and much more. It’s time to start competing!