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So You Want to Be an Online Retailer in 2020?

Times have changed. Having personally launched an online retailer in 2005, I can honestly say that it would be much more difficult today. Not only are you competing with other entrepreneurs in your industry, but also with the likes of Amazon, Target, Home Depot and/or Walmart. And don’t forget the newest entrant, your own vendors who likely have direct-to-consumer selling through their websites or Amazon marketplace. 

You’re selling the same product, but they have faster fulfillment, faster checkouts and the trust of your market. Sure, the upcoming Shopify Fulfillment option may help with your fulfillment woes, but how do you compete with Amazon’s fast and easy checkout options when your customers will have the friction of entering their credit card data, name and address if they want to buy from you?

Back in 2005, ecommerce was like the wild west. We had friction, but it was mostly due to security concerns. Now, people are more used to giving up their credit card data, but each bit of friction increases cart abandonment rates. Even with better prices, you’ll often lose sales to the speed and convenience offered by the larger players. 

Direct-to-consumer is an attractive option, but has its own disadvantages. Who wants to visit multiple stores to get a few items when they could get everything they need on Amazon?

But it’s not all doom and gloom. You could still be in a great position if you have a well thought-out strategy. 

If you ask me, the key to competing is not competing.

You won’t win on price. You won’t win on fulfillment. Where you can win is by providing a unique experience that isn’t easily replicated.

One avenue where this works is with hard-to-service products where you have to build out a set of different branded products to complete the package. A bike shop is a great example. If you wanted to get into mountain biking, would you go to several different websites to get everything you need to get started? 

Probably not. 

Would you go to Amazon and buy all of those products?

Most of us would say yes.

But how would you discover the products you need on Amazon? Amazon may have great product search, but product discovery and curation are virtually nonexistent. 

Doubling down on product information, education, and discovery can help to bring the in-person, curated experience to your online shoppers. Live chat, how-to articles, and video tutorials are a great place to start, but that probably won’t be enough.

Strong merchandising is the key to the guided experiences that will help shoppers find the products that they need. Countless modern brands now merchandise, tweak, and tune everything on their homepage, search and category pages to ensure that visitors discover the most relevant set of products without having to dig. 

But this isn’t a “set it and forget it” optimization. Month after month, the needs of shoppers and the environment in each industry evolve. Merchandising tools now allow retailers to customize the arrangement of products and navigation dynamically, and intuitively. Moving best-selling products to the top of a category, while keeping out-of-stock items on the last page can now be done in a few clicks, without code. Placing matching tops and bottoms next to each other can be done with a drag-and-drop gesture. With controls that can be used this easily, customized pages can be created in minutes, allowing marketing campaigns to be off-the-cuff and reactive.

Responding to the needs of your shoppers, and guiding them to the set of products that are right for them is easier than ever, but it’s an opportunity that will be ignored by the likes of Amazon and Walmart, giving you the edge with your personal touch.