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This Tiny Offline Retailer Is Taking on Amazon and Winning

How one entrepreneur intends to beat Amazon at its own game.

"I don't care how big Amazon is. I've got something they don't have."

Darcy Lee is a one-woman force. I recently had the pleasure of talking to Lee, the winner of our Likeable Love Story Contest, about her small business called Heartfelt. In an age in which major online retailers like Amazon own the market, Lee is a small-business owner determined to give customers the opportunity to both "shop local and shop online."

Lee has worked in the gift industry for years, and when the opportunity came for her to open her own shop, she immediately jumped. Fifteen years later, she is doing better than ever running Heartfelt, helping people find the perfect gift for anyone in their lives. Lee can tailor a gift for anyone, from toddlers to teens to 90-year-old husbands celebrating their anniversaries.

Heartfelt recently expanded to a webstore, and orders are now coming in from around the country. Lee blogs, tweets, and uses Facebook, Instagram, and Pinterest to spread the word, sharing pictures of her interesting and unique gift items with the world.

In today's e-commerce universe, where huge online retail websites such as Amazon sell anything and everything, it would seem tough for small businesses to catch up and compete. However, Heartfelt is a perfect example of how small businesses are adapting to the change and even making online shopping a lot more personal.

Lee says that having an online existence is just like having another store. Customers can email her about a gift they need or a person they need a gift for and Lee will pick out five to six items on the basis of the occasion and demographics. It even gets more personal. She will custom wrap your gift for free!

"When you know exactly what you are looking for, it can be a 30- to 40-second process, but the big problem with Amazon is that when you are browsing, it takes a lot longer and becomes an awfully impersonal experience," Lee says. Heartfelt is all about one-on-one personal shopping and finding the right thing for that special person. When I asked Lee if she thinks Amazon could ever duplicate this business model, she responded with, "No, because it's me and my great taste."

In a world increasingly dominated by large companies doing business online, Lee and Heartfelt proves that there is still room for small retail businesses--if they're smart about expanding their online marketplaces, and use their size as an advantage.

IMAGE: Courtesy Subject
Last updated: Aug 7, 2014

DAVE KERPEN | Columnist | CEO, Likeable Media

Dave Kerpen is the CEO of Likeable Local. He is also the cofounder and chairman of Likeable Media and the New York Times bestselling author of Likeable Social Media and Likeable Business. Want to learn about how to grow your business using social media in 2 minutes? Click here.

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