5 Ways To Beat Amazon At Ecommerce

This is a guest post by Colin Jones, who has found many creative ways to be self-employed since 2002. When Colin and Grace aren’t busy chasing their 4 children around, they run HatsRCool and My Unique Shower Curtains out of their home in Kirkland, WA.

AmazonWhen I first ventured into e-commerce, I was incredibly leery of starting a product-based store.

I had a friend who had grown a great store, only to be undercut by Amazon. How could I ever compete with their prices?

If they don’t sell my products now, they could add them at any moment! But instead of running from product-based stores, my wife and I decided to start two of them and figure out a way to make it work!

There have been ups and downs along the way, but we now have two profitable online stores.

Much of our success has come from figuring out how exactly to beat Amazon at e-commerce. Here are five tips we wanted to share with you:

Unique Products

Trying to beat Amazon with better prices is a tough battle. That’s why one of my most successful ways to beat Amazon in e-commerce is by out-niching Amazon with unique products.

For my hat e-commerce store, rather than focusing on top sellers found on Amazon or the top hat retailers, we focus on unique products and product categories that most likely aren’t carried by larger online retailers.

Over time, we have gotten a better idea of exactly what kinds of products our audience is looking for, so it has given us the confidence to start creating our own line of hats.

This frees us up from the fear that Amazon might start carrying something we are selling well, as well as puts us in a position to start selling wholesale to other retailers.

Custom or Personalized Products

One thing Amazon has not gotten into, and I don’t see them getting into, is personalized or customized products. You are welcome to sell your own personalized products through Amazon, but they won’t start undercutting you with their own personalized products in your niche.

Even better than the competitive edge over Amazon, we have found that many of our most profitable products are personalized or custom items! We have developed a relationship with a local embroidery shop who customizes some products for us. Others are products like our hand-painted shower curtains.

We have a good system for painting these in our garage, and the margins well justify the extra labor (it’s actually therapeutic- kind of like painting by numbers for grown-ups).

Socially Driven Products

Only a few years ago, almost all online shopping was done through search engines. Now, however, there are many more ways that shoppers can find your products. In some niches, competing with Amazon on search engines can be a long-term effort at best.

However, getting your products in front of people through social media is a whole new world that many people have yet to pursue. A good friend of mine who is a retired Colonel in the army started an e-commerce store that sells military rings.

After two years of struggling to get significant traffic through Google, he decided to try Facebook ads. He used targeted Facebook ads to grow his fanbase, then was able to showcase his products to those fans. His sales grew from about $1,000/mo to $8,000/month through this strategy.

Furthermore, since Google values social signals, his website’s rankings went up in Google from all of the “shares” he was receiving on Facebook. We have also seen how Pinterest can dramatically increase sales. I think we are just starting to see how we can leverage social media for e-commerce.

Have a Better Story

There is no denying that Amazon has become a trusted brand to consumers. However, the story behind a company can have a powerful impact on who a customer chooses to buy from. As Simon Sinek put it, “people don’t buy what you do; people buy why you do it.”

An “About Us” page is a great place to share who you are, how you run your business, and most importantly, why you run your business. Sure, they can buy your product from the faceless Amazon machine.

However, if they connect with you and your passion for what you sell, you might not just have a customer, but a loyal fan.

Be an Expert

Another way to beat Amazon is by sharing your expertise about your products. Rather than just using the same, boring product descriptions that everyone else uses, write unique details or product reviews that will inform the purchaser in a way only an expert can.

Another great way to offer your expertise is through product videos or video reviews. Treepodia’s study showed that conversion rates increased regardless of product category.

Furthermore, videos build trust, decrease the percentage of product returns, and can often help a product page rank higher in search engines. By showcasing your expertise in your niche, you can add valuable information that Amazon is unable to provide to the consumer.

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19 thoughts on “5 Ways To Beat Amazon At Ecommerce”

  1. Create comparisons that you don’t find on amazon. They can be either technical or experience based. Both types work fine.

  2. Susanne says:

    THis was a great article! never thought about the value of story telling in the “About Us” page!

  3. This is a fantastic article so thank you to Colin, and was particularly timely as I get ready to launch my own product website. As usual, mywifequitherjob gives us the best content filled with useful and helpful examples.

    Another recommendation: do not hesitate to think about getting the online course through mywifequitherjob because it was the best investment I made! Thank you!!!

  4. Thanks for the tips! I can see why customizing a product works, it becomes one of a kind. I am hoping one day, haha, to sell commercial merchandise, not sure what yet, because I want to love, or at least really like what I sell. For now I work on my other five online shops, selling vintage and collectibles, which makes every item one of a kind and therefore every photo and description has to be written individually, that in itself is time consuming, but I do love it, better get to work listing those patterns ;)

  5. Kevin says:

    Thanks for the article! It’s nice to read about real life examples or successful people with successful e-commerce stores. I have a couple of questions, if you wouldn’t mind answering. My questions are as follows:
    - What checkout software you are using in the two sites listed above and have you tried other checkout software?
    - What percentage of sales of hats and shower curtains are referrals to Amazon?
    - Do you drop ship or store most of the product?
    Thanks again and hope you both continued success with e-commerce especially the two awesome stores you provided as examples. Keep up the good work!

    1. Kevin,

      1. We use Paypal Pro for both sites.

      2. 90% of the income is from products we sell, rather than Amazon referrals. We’ve used the Amazon referrals products as a way to test the market for HatsRCool, rather than dropping thousands of dollars into inventory for something that we may never get traction for. It’s been a really helpful way to test new categories. But as soon as we see that something is selling well, we sell it ourselves and take out the Amazon affiliate link.

      3. It’s about half dropshipped and half inventoried. Many of our vendors don’t dropship. Also, if we have regular enough sales to inventory, we tend to do that. But we have great dropship relationships with a number of vendors, so that’s been a great way to cut down on the cost of our overhead.

      Thanks so much!

  6. Beth, You’re welcome! This website has been an encouragement to my wife and I as we’ve been growing our ecommerce stores, so I was happy to share what we’ve been learning.

  7. A great article. This is one that can be applied to even brick and mortor businesses.
    Thanks for the post

  8. Hey Colin,

    I’m sure everyone would love to know how much money you invested in your business when first starting out. Would you mind revealing this number?

    1. That’s a good question. I paid about $2,000 for the ecommerce platform, then started working on content and SEO, then when things started ranking, I put another $2,000 into initial inventory. I didn’t know anything about what I was doing initially.

      If I were to do it over now, and there weren’t very good ecommerce platforms at the time, so if I were to do it over, I would put less money initially into the ecommerce platform and invest that money instead into online training from someone who’s successfully started a site (like the Profitable Online Store product offered here). We made so many mistakes, especially SEO, in the first couple years and really struggled to know where to put our energy that it stunted the growth of the stores.

  9. A wow article for me! Inspiring and thoughtful. Let me think now of my own product and start challenging the giant :). Great post!

    1. Thanks Alex! I appreciate the positive feedback. It encourages me to continue to share what I’m learning.

  10. That was a really insightful article. I guess I always figured the same, why compete when you’re going up against goliath.

    I’m glad to hear you’ve found a successful and profitable niche for yourself on Amazon. Keep it up, I may try to do the same after reading this post, only I won’t compete in the hat niche ;)

  11. Thomas K says:

    Hey Colin, I love your blog! Thanks so much!

    1. Colin says:

      Thanks, Thomas!

  12. Tim says:

    This is s great post with some real thoughtful advice. I am planning ways to implement some of the strategies for my new stores. I have also found good success loading my catalog onto Amazon and selling there – Did over 20K in sales from Amazon alon this past holiday season.

  13. Mel says:

    This is pretty much common knowledge. Find niche products that they do not sell. But its easier said than done. 9 times out of 10 you will come up with what you think is a unique niche product only to find out that others are already selling it.

    I have yet to read an article to gives an in depth way to find a good niche product to sell (brainstoriming?).

    1. Hey Mel,

      What’s common knowledge to you might not be to other people:) Coming up with a good niche product to sell is not something that can be explained in a single article unless it’s a really long post. I have over 15 videos on the subject in my class and I still hold niche workshops periodically. It’s not black and white.

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