How To Beat Amazon At Its Own Game

Remember back in the day when the only thing Amazon sold was books? That was back before tablets and eReaders; back when stories and information lived on paper, arriving on your doorstep in a pleasant brown box a few days after you really wanted it.

Fast forward a decade or so, and you have a hard time thinking of something that isn’t available through history’s most successful online retailer. But that doesn’t mean you're left without options—far from it. A few pages out of the Amazon playbook may be all you need to rise from the fray and gain a solid foothold in one of the most lucrative markets around. Here are three ways to start:

1. Pick a segment and do it better than anyone.

Amazon didn’t start out offering everything from hot sauce to air conditioners. In the beginning, they were simply a great online book seller. Jeff Bezos saw an opportunity to build a better mousetrap offering convenience, savings and great customer service.

What’s your  best product? Ask yourself which product or products you could offer while giving the very best selection, value, price and support to each and every customer. Remember that more is not better, it’s just more. And, that some of the most influential minds in business, from Steve Jobs to Marissa Mayer, have preached focus and discipline over the attempt to be everything to everyone. 

2. Use technology to your every advantage.

At its core, Amazon is a brilliantly conceived virtual shopping center featuring an intuitive search engine; helpful, easy to use account management; automated sales tools and suggestions; and a powerful data center that keeps the entire operation running 24/7.

Few companies in the world have the wherewithal to unleash a system like that on such a massive scale. But you don't have to achieve the same scale to get the same results. When it comes down to it, it’s the idea behind those systems that is key, not the implementation of them. 

Small and inexpensive changes can be made to whichever search engine is integrated into your shopping cart to enhance the experience. Things like improving readability, including thumbnails, and the graceful handling of too few or no matching search results will go a long way. The trick is to understand why Amazon does what it does and add those motivations to the bag of tricks you use to help explain, design and implement positive change in your eCommerce solution.

3. Focus on customer care. 

Amazon folklore has it that, back in the day, Jeff Bezos would bring an empty chair to every one of Amazon’s meetings and announce that it represented the Amazon customer who wasn’t present to speak for herself. These days, the giant eRetailer employs a small army of customer advocates whose job it is to fill that empty chair and work tirelessly as an advocate for all customers. 

No matter how you invent a good method of customer care, always remember that, without those customers, the whole exercise is academic. In other words, the greatest product in the world, invented by the smartest person in the world, sold by the most sophisticated eCommerce system in the world is meaningless if no one is there to buy it. 

KJ is a bass player and singer-songwriter (like Sting, only taller); co-founder of Sessionville; and all too fond of sushi and Doritos®.