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A Five-Step Guide to Competing with Amazon

Think you can’t compete with Amazon?

Think again.

Competing with Amazon is possible. I’m not saying you can topple the ecommerce giant from her throne, but you can certainly rank for keywords, sell awesome stuff, and not get absolutely destroyed by them.

I want to tell you how to do that in five kinda-sorta-easy steps.

First, let’s talk about what you can’t do. Admitting your shortcomings is the first step to maximizing your strengths.

  1. You can’t have the same size of inventory. Amazon pretty much owns every consumer product in the world, so yeah good luck with that. You’re going to need some bigger barns to store the stuff.
  2. You can’t have Jeff Bezos. Not unless you have a really good offer for him.
  3. You can’t have the domain amazon.com. It’s already been taken, and is not for sale. I checked for you.

1 amazon dot com not available

That’s what you can’t do. And, hey, the list is only three items long. That leaves you with a ton of options for what you can do. I’m going to provide a five-step guide to doing battle with the giant.

1. Narrow your niche.

Amazon’s weakness is in its greatness. It has everything for sale. Amazon can’t be good at everything.

You? You don’t sell everything. You just sell a few things. (At least you should.)

You will have a much harder time trying to rank for a lot of different keywords, even if they are all sort of in the same niche. Whatever you sell, Amazon probably has a few more variations, sizes, colors, and features.

It’s extremely important to narrow your ecommerce niche and dominate it.

How do you dominate it? Through content marketing, of course.

Amazon.com doesn’t do content marketing. They buy PPC, they do conversion optimization, they do SEO, they release products, they claim more verticals, and they do a lot of other things.

But they don’t do content marketing very well at all. They don’t even do email marketing that great!

This leaves you with a huge opportunity to go into your niche, content market the heck out of it, and start to rank for all kinds of awesome keywords.

2. Do something radical with shipping.

One area that Amazon has completely dominated is the area of shipping. It is, in fact, one of the company’s greatest successes.

Members of Amazon’s Prime service can get two-day shipping for free, and next-day shipping for just a few dollars on each order. And same-day shipping? Yep, they offer that, too.

2 get started amazon

Can you compete with that?

Yes. A company doesn’t win merely by offering something. They win by giving it without being asked.

Take Zappos, for instance. They didn’t make a big deal about their killer shipping policy, but when it happened, customers were floored. And hooked. Zappos scored by delivering the customer’s packages before they anticipated them, successfully delivering, well, happiness, as CEO Tony Hsieh explained in his book.

You don’t have to offer free shipping or some other extraordinary same-day service, but you can create a shipping service that exceeds expectations and provides satisfaction.

3. Create a subscription service.

Another way that Amazon has ramped up revenue is by creating subscription services:

  • Subscribe and save (recurring shipments)
  • Amazon Prime (annual fees)
  • Amazon Simple Storage Service (AWS)

Because they’re so good at this recurring payment thing, Amazon actually launched a new service called Amazon Payments so they can help other companies keep charging customers on a recurring basis. You might start seeing more of that iconic yellow button on the web:

3 pay with amazon

The subscription service is one of the smartest ways to sell a product. You don’t just get a one-and-done transactional experience with your customer. Instead, you get a relationship, and revenue every month or year.

You don’t have to be a software provider to make the subscription model work. Any form of recurring deliverables warrants recurring payments.

4. Boast the best customer service experience on the planet.

I mean no disrespect to Amazon, but they can’t do customer service the way you can. They’re too big.

This is a sandbox that Amazon can’t play in. But you can.

One of the best ways to compete with Amazon is to provide something that they can’t. They can’t provide personalized, one-on-one service to human beings like you can.

Your brand can achieve viral spreadability through passionate brand evangelists. Amazon doesn’t have that capability. You’ll never overhear this conversion:

“Hey, I found this great site to buy stuff.”

“Yeah? What’s it called?”

“It’s called Amazon.com.”

“Awesome. I’ll check it out. Were they nice?”

“Um. I guess… Actually, I don’t know.”

But what about your business.

“Hey, I found this great site to buy prejiggered widget caps.”

“Seriously? What’s the name of it?”

“PreJigJig.com. It’s awesome. I got on the phone with them with — no delay. They answered all my questions, and they even ordered me pizza!”

“Pizza, huh?”

“Yeah. They rock.”

Customer service is the idea that you have personal interaction with and relationships with your customers.

Don’t complicated customer service. All you need to do is provide personal care, and be nice about it.

You can solve their problems, as in this diagram from rdioutsourcing.com.

4 customer support decision tree

There is consensus around the fact that customer retention via customer service and relationships has a better ROI and cost-effectiveness than other methods of marketing. Check out the first bar in this survey graph from eConsultancy.

5 econ graph

Superoffice.com dug into the reasons that customers leave a company, and settled on these reasons. If your customer knows you care, then you can hang on to 68% of your customers.

6 why do customers leave a company

This is the single most important step in the entire process. Overdelivering to your customer can powerfully reshape your identity as a brand, and compel your customers to stay with you, rather than go to the Amazon dark side.

5. Build a fanatical fan base.

My final point is linked to the point above.

The warm-hug experience of great customer service leads to building a fanatical fan base.

Building a jumping, screaming, raving, fanatical fan base is not easy, but it is possible. The strategy is to stay small, at least as it pertains to customer interaction. Everything you do as a brand — from social media outreach to content marketing efforts — must have this personal and close-connected feel to it. It’s about cohesion, connection, and knock-out service.

Let me give you an example. You can buy a GoPro camera from Amazon, no problem.

7 Go Pro Amazon Listing

But can you connect with GoPro as a brand? Do you have the same sense, feel, connectedness and emotion? Absolutely not.

8 Go Pro home page

That’s why true GoPro fans are going to stick to the GoPro site to buy their GoPro swag. They love this brand.

GoPro has defined their niche (that’s step one), and refined their customer service. Now, they have a peerless fan base. Why is it that GoPro has 3.5 million followers on Instagram, and Amazon.com has only 95,000?

9 Go Pro Instagram

Conclusion

Competing with Amazon is something that most ecommerce retailers joke about. “Compete with Amazon? Yeah, hahaha!”

I think it’s funny, too, but for different reasons. I think it’s funny because you can stick it to Amazon by outdoing them at their own game. You can succeed, not just based on your product, but on the way you market that product.

A lot of that is plain kickass service.

Tell me how you compete with Amazon.

About the Author: is a lifelong evangelist of Kissmetrics and blogs at Quick Sprout.

  1. I’ve read stuff on this blog (infographics and all) tons of times as I’ve worked to learn about running a website & internet business. This article just made it all open up for me… compete with amazon?! Never before thought possible, but now it seems totally within the realm of possibility. Even just my small handful of products (which I hope to grow and expand on).
    Thanks so much for this article!

  2. My biggest problem is shipping. We ship perishable (real chocolate the melts) and must be kept below 85 degrees. Shipping is killing us. We do have flat rate shipping but it is $15. Shipping is killing our profits.

  3. Good reminder that competing with Amazon is not only possible, but a necessity.

  4. Thanks for the article.

    There’s really only video you need to watch to prove that you can take on Amazon, but using a niche as suggested in the article. It’s from Diapers.com who is now owned, rather ironically, by Amazon: youtube.com/watch?v=A6NK0zexl4s

  5. Karthik Kumar Dec 09, 2014 at 1:00 am

    Thanks for sharing this useful article. I just now started running a ecommerce website. I was thinking to learn a lot about it, and this article helps me in many ways. I have some problem in shipping, and this article gives me ideas to clear that problem, and makes a clean shipping process.

  6. Eijaz Pardhan Dec 09, 2014 at 9:07 pm

    Thank you very much for sharing such an informative post. Of course amazon is a ecommerce giant, but we can compete with it by applying your five steps guide. Thanks once again. Neil

  7. Thomas Krafft Dec 31, 2014 at 12:12 pm

    This is as true today as it was 15 years ago when I worked with a company that ultimately beat Amazon at selling books — in the B2B space. We found great opportunity (which ultimately led to our success and acquisition offers from both Amazon and BN.com) in specifically targeting thousands of companies looking for personal service (extra discounts, product lists tailored specifically to their needs, and other support for their unique requirements) on those millions of books their employees buy every year.

    While the opportunity for books and ebooks might not be the same today, I’m sure there are plenty of similar opportunities to serve not only niche consumer but particularly niche B2B markets – and to serve them much better than Amazon does today. Except where Amazon has an exclusive with some vendor, anyone can acquire the same catalog of millions of products, and sell them yourself at whatever margins work for your business model.

    • Alexandra Shadle Sep 04, 2016 at 3:09 pm

      Hey Thomas!

      That’s a sick approach. I’m curious, what was the name of the company? Did you start with targeting niche B2B markets? Also, how did you figure out the needs of these B2B markets, ie: how did you know these companies were looking for extra discounts, product lists tailored to their needs? Were you a big data company gathering analytics? So many questions.. and I’d love your response!

      Thank you!
      Ali

  8. Steven Macdonald Jan 08, 2015 at 12:28 am

    People love great customer service, and will blindly follow a brand if they are happy in the way they are treated.

    Heck, it’s why Amazon bought Zappos in the first place, due to Tony Hsieh’s customer first philosophy.

  9. I definitely agree with all the points in this post. With the right approach, small-scale eCommerce merchants can be successful if they stop chasing the lowest common denominator and focus on building a unique brand in a niche with passionate and informed customers and equally passionate and informed workers.

  10. You can add Amazon Kindle to the list of subscription services. I subscribe to that. Soxme of their books have free audio versions that i can listen to via Amazon Alexa. I think I have three Amazon apps that i use regularly, Amazon Kindle, Alexa, and the shopping app. Sure you can “compete” with Amazon in niche categories but you cannot really compete with the juggernaut altogether.

  11. And what qualifications do you have that would give you any credibility at all in telling people how they can compete with a market leader like Amazon.com? Where do you get the arrogance?

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