Amazon is the original juggernaut of the ecommerce industry. How can you apply their lessons to your store?

Almost every ecommerce owner knows how difficult it is to compete with Amazon. It’s such a dominant force in online shopping that it would be hard to imagine the industry without it. With so many resources at its disposal, many small businesses feel completely outclassed. After all, how are they supposed to compete with one of the tech industry giants?

The good news is: you don’t have to. Not directly. Unless your business is trying to be the next one-stop shop for everything online, you still have plenty of room to market your own unique products.

And, as any good marketer knows, your first move in a tough industry should always be to scope out the competition and see what you can learn. Lucky for you, there’s a lot to learn from Amazon. Here’s a start.

1. Find anything.

One thing truly remarkable about Amazon is the confidence shoppers feel when searching for products. I can’t remember the last time I got on Amazon and felt like I couldn’t find something. If it wasn’t there, then it wasn’t available. There was never any question that a product I wanted to buy wouldn’t be findable.

Amazon's search bar showing a drop-down list of products based on the search.

I can’t tell you how often Amazon’s auto-complete helps me find just what I want.

 

Amazon accomplishes this several ways: first, it has an excellent search function. So long as I can describe what I want, there’s an excellent chance Amazon will be able to supply me with it. Second, it splits products into departments, and offers many filtering functions so that I can more easily find products that fit my search parameters. And finally, it offers excellent breadcrumb navigation, so I can always get back to where I was before.

2. Overcome hesitations.

Amazon pioneered concepts in the ecommerce industry about how to overcome buyer hesitations, and this is most apparent in the way they handle customer reviews. Over the years, reviews and product pages on Amazon have grown ever more elaborate. They’ve advanced from simple star-and-text reviews to searchable, sortable reviews where other customers can rate the helpfulness of the reviews themselves.

An example of a tagged Amazon customer review.

Notice how the reviews are tagged so that you can easily search them based on a specific feature.

 

The depth and detail provided by this system puts to rest any concerns a buyer might have about the product, and helps them make a more informed purchase. And the best thing? All this content is user-generated. Amazon doesn’t have to do anything beyond provide the functionality.

3. Streamline returns.

One reason consumers trust Amazon is that Amazon trusts consumers. When you go to return products on Amazon, the assumption is that you acted in good faith, and they are willing to do whatever is necessary to make the process as simple as possible.

An example of an Amazon return mid-process.

Not “what did you do wrong,” but “how can we make it right?”

 

It’s not that the process is “no questions asked,” it’s that the questions they do ask are all “how can we fix this,” and never “explain to me how this is my fault?”

You may be a small business with a tight budget, and it may seem to you that you can’t afford to be so generous in your returns policy. But trust me: showing you’re willing to help the customer have a good experience will win over more business, helping you in the long run far more than penny pinching now.

4. Recommendations welcome.

Amazon offers many small ways to highlight other products, from their “frequently bought together” list to their “customers who bought this also bought…” and even their “recently viewed” prompts. And the thing that’s great about these features? They’re helpful.

An example of Amazon offering products frequently bought together.

Oh look! Just the right coffee filters to go with my Chemex!

 

How do I know I’m going to get a product that works with the one I just added to my cart? Because Amazon told me what to get. Where was that item I was interested in last week but nearly forgot about? Right there. How about an album by a similar artist I’ve never heard of? Already in my cart.

5. Wish Lists required.

I am amazed—amazed—at how frequently I find an online store without an effective wish list. It may not be required for businesses who only have two or three products, but if you have a large inventory, do yourself and your clients a favor: offer them ways to save their interests.

Amazon's wishlist managing functions.

Not only can I save items to my list, I can choose what list they go to, who gets to view the list, and how important items on the list are to me.

 

Amazon is particularly good at offering robust wish lists. You can create lists for specific types of items, or share your list with friends. You can even prioritize items on your list to help you make purchasing decisions faster. Helpful? I’d say so.

6. Fast checkout.

I remember when Amazon first introduced one-click orders. It wasn’t that the idea was crazy—it was powerful. Buy products without having to enter credit card information every time? No more messing around with shipping addresses? One click, and it arrives at my door two days later? Or less?!

Amazon's buy-now feature.

Buy now—before you talk yourself out of it.

It was clear from the outset that Amazon was going to make a killing with this feature, and I’m sure they did. As for your company? It may be difficult to implement one-click, but you can expedite the process with user accounts. Let your customers save their information, and make it easy for them to re-order as necessary. Even better…

7. Subscriptions work.

Set up a subscription. It’s not just for Netflix and the New York Times: you can offer subscriptions for regular household goods, too.

Amazon's subscribe and save function for dishwasher detergent.

Never run out of dishwasher detergent again!

 

I haven’t actually ever subscribed to an Amazon product, but I have signed up for similar services on other websites. If you offer the kind of product that needs replenishing, turn it into a treat: let your users customize orders, and send them friendly reminders when the next product is about to ship. And yes, make cancellation easy. Reduce those buyer hesitations, remember?

It’s hard to compete with Amazon. But they also paved the way for smaller online businesses.

Before Amazon, very few customers felt comfortable buying products online. There were fears of credit card theft, anxiety about purchasing products that couldn’t be examined first, and a reluctance to pay for shipping.

All these pain points still exist, but at a much lower level than in the past. And like it or not, you can thank Amazon.

Almost single-handedly, Amazon transformed online shopping from a veritable jungle to an accessible, frictionless purchasing experience. By removing barriers and putting the customer first, Amazon transformed the way we shop.

That’s opened opportunities for many other businesses as well. Yes, you may have to work hard to compete with Amazon’s shipping costs and delivery speed, but customers are willing to buy your products unseen. And that’s mostly because the trust they place in Amazon has transferred toward online businesses in general.

And at the end of the day, that’s the most important lesson of all: customer trust is everything.

Published 12/19/18 by Laura Lynch