How to Beat Amazon at Ecommerce [10 CASE STUDIES]

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A Refreshing Guide on How to Beat Amazon at Ecommerce in four steps.  (Includes 10 D2C Case Studies.)

So, you want to build an ecommerce company?

That’s great. Just one small problem: you’re going to compete against, arguably, the most innovative and powerful company in the world.

Amazon.

Oh, and they are not showing any signs of slowing down. According to eMarketer, Amazon is expected to have 50% of the ecommerce market share by 2021.

They’re getting into new categories with their own products.  Think furniture, consumer goods, fashion and more. Amazon’s delivery times are phenomenal and only getting better.  The Amazon recommendation engine is backed by years of online transactions.

As a kicker, they also have the benefit of planting a device in your home, so you can easily utter the worlds “Alexa, order more Fruity Pebbles.”

So, how does an ecommerce business compete?

How do you take on the juggernaut that is the Bezos machine?

Jeff Bezos Amazon

Well, it can be done and there are lots of brands doing it very well. Here are the four ways to beat Amazon in the world of ecommerce and we included examples.

  1. A Unique Product
  2. Superior Customer Experience
  3. Mission Driven Brand
  4. Passionate Community

1. A Truly Unique Product

Is your product truly special or unique?  Do you have a product that has “product market fit”?  If not, then you might not have a chance against the million other options on Amazon. (Looking at the tube socks of the world.)

But, if you have something that’s different from other options in your category, then you’re on to something. Let me pause for a second and call out that I didn’t say better.  I said different.  Better is a dangerous game to play because lots of players are jockeying for this title.  It’s about what makes you unique or special.

This allows your product is put into a different category in the eyes of your customers.  This can even be with one small difference.

EXAMPLES:

Spanx: This now massive fashion line started out by creating their own industry: shapewear.  This required some education but once women understood why Spanx was created they responded with their wallets.

Spanx ecommerce creating shapewear

Allbirds: The shoe category is flooded with formidable competitors.  But, one company has been able to make a shoe that’s just slightly different.  It’s that one difference that sets them apart from the rest.  The wool running shoes are positioned as the most comfortable shoes in the world and they don’t require socks.

Allbirds ecommerce creating wool running shoes

Cubcoats: This hoodie for kids is truly different because it does one thing that most hoodies cannot do.  It turns into a stuffed animal when you zip it up. Letting it serve the purpose of outerwear and bedtime buddy.

Cubcoats ecommerce creating hoodie that turns into a stuff toy

2. Superior Customer Experience

Amazon’s customer experience has set the standard for what we expect from any online shop.  The ecommerce powerhouse offers free two-day shipping, superior customer service and delivery times of an hour in some cities.  How do you even compete with their shipping infrastructure?

The answer is to create a customer experience that’s unique to your brand, your product and your customer’s lifestyle.  By engineering an experience that is unique to your specific customer, you can actually enhance your overall brand experience and your customer loyalty.  This could be the key in why a potential customer would pick your platform over Amazon.

EXAMPLES

Warby Parker: The eye glasses company was able to do this with its home try-on program.  Warby Parker would send you five glasses to try on and you just send back the glasses you didn’t want and keep the ones you liked.  It was free to try. This experience helped differentiate Warby Parker from every other option out there.

Warby Parker ecommerce sends five glasses for testing

Mott & Bow: This NYC-based brand created a similar experience for pants and jeans.  They know the pain of trying on jeans in an attempt to find your perfect pair.  That’s why they send you two pairs every time you order so you can try on both sizes.  Then you send the pair that doesn’t fit back for free.

Mott & Bow ecommerce sends two pairs of pants for fitting

REI: The outdoor brand went a step further with its return policy. As a brand built on making durable products. REI says that you can return any product up to a year of when it’s been used with no questions asked. The great thing about this customer service move is that it reinforces the brands mission of making durable products for the outdoors.

REI ecommerce offers 100 percent return after one year with defect

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3. Mission Driven Brand

What does your brand stand for?  For some companies, it’s more than just selling products and making a profit.  It’s about having a positive impact on the world. That means using the companies profits for good by reinvesting that money in a charity or a cause. This can serve as a key differentiator that consumers consider when deciding what brand to use. Customers are savvy and demand transparent from their products and applaud those brands that do good.

EXAMPLES

TOMS: This shoe company led by Blake Mycoskie set the standard for being mission driven.  For every pair of shoes sold, TOMS will donate a pair of shoes to someone in need.

TOMS ecommerce sell with a mission to fulfill

BOMBAS: This sock company did the same buy one give one move but for the homeless community.  After discovering that socks are they most requested item at homeless shelters, the Bombas founders decided to launch a sock brand that would donate a pair of socks every time someone purchased their socks.

BOMBAS ecommerce sell with a mission to fulfill

4. A Passionate Community

How are you getting traffic?  Is it a paid channel or a free channel?  The best channels are free and involve word of mouth marketing.  The companies that do this well are able to create a movement comprised of passionate people.  Build up an active community that’s more than willing to talk about your brand, product or mission online.

EXAMPLES

Kreyol Essence: This beauty brand out of Haiti created a business by solving a problem most women with curly.  By engineering a product that makes curls look healthy and thick, the passionate customers were happy to voice their delight to the world in the form of website reviews, Instagram videos and referrals to friends.

Kreyol Essence ecommerce is proud of its seller community

Parachute: The direct to consumer brand for home products was built on the back of its community.  They look to social sharing of well curated editorial images from influencers and their community as a revenue generator. Referral traffic accounts for 40% of sales for this brand.

Parachute ecommerce is proud of its seller community

CONCLUSION

Amazon is phenomenal at ecommerce and they will continue to innovate.  That doesn’t mean they cannot be beaten in certain categories and niches.  Innovated ecommerce brands have laid out a formula for success that includes the following:

  1. A Unique Value Proposition
  2. Superior Customer Experience
  3. Mission Driven Brand
  4. Passionate Community

As you look at competing with the juggernaut, consider these four traits because one of them could become your advantage.

Jim Huffman

Founder & CEO GrowthHit. Startup mentor at Techstars, General Assembly, and Sephora Accelerator. Author of The Growth Marketer’s Playbook #1
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