5 strategies to beat Amazon

March 11, 2016 06:46 PM

While Amazon is undeniably a Goliath, online retailers can beat the e-commerce giant by turning its weaknesses into their strengths. Here are five top strategies to help you win:

Get noticed during crucial shopping days.

You’ve likely heard by now that Amazon dominated e-commerce sales during the holidays, boasting a 12% increase in sales. So how can you compete? First, get noticed. Find a way to get press, but don’t waste it on something gimmicky; tie your campaign to your company values to target your most loyal and highest-converting customers.

For instance, national retailer REI shocked everyone last year by closing all its doors on Black Friday, asking consumers to #optoutside rather than shop. The initiative was perfectly aligned with REI’s mission to inspire a lifetime of outdoor adventure, and led to a considerable spike in online traffic—a 26% increase on Black Friday and 10% on Thanksgiving 

While closing stores on the hottest shopping day of the season is not smart for everyone, think about ways to build buzz around your company values during key shopping days. It’s a great way to remind your target buyers what you stand for and drive them to your site.

Treat shoppers differently. 

Speaking of targeting your buyers, Amazon doesn’t leave much room for retailers to fine tune their messages for different audiences. Amazon is one-size-fits-all: everyone is shown the same prices and offered the same deals.

As a result, retailers miss the opportunity to create tailored offers for different shoppers, such as first-time buyers and loyal customers. You can outshine Amazon by leveraging your email marketing with content and offers designed to reach specific shoppers.

Help shoppers find what they are looking for. 

Let’s be honest. If you’re browsing and don’t know exactly what you want, Amazon isn’t the easiest place to shop. The shopping experience can feel like you’re wandering through a huge warehouse without a soul in sight to help you.

An effective way of providing a more satisfying shopping experience is by delivering relevant site search results. You can also engage customers further by offering a product or gift finder, which suggests a collection of products based on a series of questions. This level of personalization is impossible to deliver on Amazon and allows you to build brand loyalty 

Additionally, be sure to showcase “new” products on your site. In a recent Internet Retailer webinar, Amazon & You, founder of e-commerce strategy firm eShopportunity Fahim Naim advised, “A way a customer typically buys on Amazon is based on reviews availability. And when you launch a new product or new line, it doesn’t have many reviews. This is a huge barrier to get customers to buy them. 

On your own website, you can easily curate and feature a new line or a seasonal collection.

For instance, Boden is making use of banners to prompt shoppers to “Make room for new-season dresses.” But the merchandising doesn’t stop there. Clicking on the banner takes shoppers to a collection of spring dresses.

Own long-tail search terms. 

It’s no secret: Amazon wins broad keyword searches. So, it’s imperative to understand the importance of more specific keyword searches, called long-tail terms. A whopping 70% of search traffic is long tail, but most retailers just focus on the top 10-20% of keywords. During Amazon & You, the chief marketing officer of healthcare uniform brand Medelita, Dan Stepchew, lists three main reasons he places just as much value on specific keywords versus broad keywords, including:

  1. There’s thousands more of them,
  2. They convert at a much higher rate, and
  3. We regularly beat Amazon in this space by building keyword-specific landing pages or blog posts.

To find these valuable long-tail terms, review your top site search terms, map these keywords to the products you sell, and then create keyword-optimized landing pages. For instance, you may find that “moose” is an unexpected top search term on your site, and you can identify multiple products you sell that match that term. Take the opportunity to build a page dedicated to this term. While it might be hard to win a broad keyword search on generic words like dinnerware or curtains, you’ll find trying to win on long-tail terms like “moose dinnerware” or “moose curtains” is considerably easier.

What’s more, shoppers who find your site via long-tail search terms are more likely to find exactly what they want and buy it.

Make shipping and returns worry-free.

While Amazon can make buying convenient, returns are not always clear. Some items can be returned for free, while others cannot, depending on your membership status or the reasons for the return. And if the item is large, return-shipping costs can add up.

To compete with Amazon, invest in worry-free shipping and returns. For example, online eyeglasses retailer Warby Parker offers a free Home Try-On Program. It’s clearly stated on their site that they offer: “fast, free shipping both ways.” For a great buying experience, make shipping and returns the last thing on shoppers’ minds.

In this story, Amazon is the Goliath; but what many forget is that in the Biblical story Goliath was too big to see well and had to call out to David to find him. Author of The Intelligent Entrepreneur, Bill Murphy Jr., said it best: “Big competitors' perceived advantages can often mask their even bigger disadvantages.” The best ways for online retailers to compete with Amazon is to see the details and truly personalize the customer experience.

SLI Systems is the provider of site search technology to 86 of the retailers in the Internet Retailer Top 1000, according to





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