Let's face it: savvy consumers today will shop around online for the best price, often finding it on Amazon or other big-box ecommerce stores. It can be difficult or impossible for small ecommerce stores like yours to compete with the low prices offered by big stores like Amazon. How in the world can you compete with them? If you can't compete on price, you'll have to figure out other ways to win sales over the big merchants. It is possible to attract customers without necessarily having the lowest prices by competing on other factors. Keep reading to find out how!
Start by asking yourself, "What value can I offer to my customers BESIDES offering the lowest prices?" Here are a few tips to consider:
1. Provide lots of helpful information
Include as much information as possible in your product descriptions, including the usual basic info, installation & usage instructions, reviews, tutorials, shipping and returns information, etc. Make yourself an expert in your field, becoming not just a retailer, but an expert advisor for your customers.
If possible, use tabs in your product description to provide easily-accessible information for your customers. Tabs make it easy for your customers to view all the relevant information, so put it out there for your potential customers! They appreciate all the helpful info you can provide.
2. Offer a generous refund and return policy
When a customer places an order, they are taking a risk--even if they can return the item, they might be afraid of wasting time trying to figure out how to return the item, or they might have to pay for postage, or take time to repackage the order, etc. They also risk taking longer than the allowed time to return the item and not being able to do so.
Eliminate this risk by::
- Making your policy easy to understand. Don't fill your return policy with legal jargon. Make it so customers can comprehend and not be afraid to order.
- Offering generous periods of time. Nothing scares off a potential customer faster than telling them they only have 3 days to return the item if it doesn't fit or doesn't work for them. Consider offering a 30-60 day return policy. The longer return period won't usually be used, and it will simply give customers more ease of mind in placing an order. An Entrepreneur.com article quotes John Lawson, founder of an Atlanta-based clothing retailer, as saying that when he changed his return policy from 14 days to 90 days, the number of returns actually went down, while sales went up.
- Giving refunds greater than 100%. Completely obliterate the customer's fear of risk by offering a 110% or 120% refund. This may sound risky to you as a store-owner, but most people won't take you up on it, and the added confidence given to your customers will increase sales to more than offset the cost to you for the returns you do get.
- Offering free return shipping. Clothing retailer ASOS makes it clear that they offer "free shipping both ways." With products like clothing, this is even more important, since customers are not able to try on products before purchasing.
3. Offer motivational rewards
Start a loyalty program for your repeat customers. While shopping at Amazon might save them a few bucks on a one-time purchase, you can encourage them to come back to your store by offering valuable rewards, such as discount codes and free shipping. If you use Shopify, check out the S Loyalty app to add a loyalty program to your store.
4. Create a brand that builds relationships
This is probably the most complex and difficult of the ideas presented here, as it requires much thoughtful planning and creativity. Successful brands like Apple and Starbucks are selling you much more than just computers and coffee--they're selling you the entire experience of interacting with their brand. Everything from Apple's sleek, white packaging to Starbucks' warm, cozy atmosphere is part of the brand experience.
How can you create a brand experience for your customers? There is no limit on the amount of money you could spend developing your brand by hiring professional help, but there are definitely ways to work on this yourself as a bootstrapper:
- Personality. Do some brainstorming about what kind of personality you want your brand to have. What feelings do you want your customers to have when they purchase something from you? What adjectives describe your brand (warm / modern / clean / eco-friendly / corporate / homemade / etc.)?
- Consistency. Make sure that all aspects of your brand--your packaging, product design, logo presentation (in all its forms, from business cards to your website), customer service phone calls, emails, EVERYTHING--are all consistent, from day to day, customer to customer, sale to sale. People love familiarity, and you can capitalize on this by creating a quality experience that is the same every time someone purchases from your store.
How have you been successful in competing against the big names? Share your experience and tips below!