For years, and soon to be decades, the likes of Amazon and eBay have dominated the e-commerce world and driven many small businesses to extinction. These giants are ready and willing to spend millions of dollars on marketing and offer merchandise and pricing that ruthlessly undercuts upstart retailers. Their primary mission: Dominate at all costs.
Fortunately, in commerce, there's no such thing as complete and eternal domination as we've seen so many industries and companies get turned over on their heads, succumbing to smarter and nimbler technologies and innovators.
Fresh ideas are always abundant and there's always a new approach, product concept, or methodology that with the right backing can topple the market leaders as we know them, or at least carve a sweet spot in a niche that is underserved--which may be all your startup needs to achieve. Fighting for global domination may more often than not lead to failure; the trick is to narrow focus and hit the target when nobody's looking as marketplaces seem more saturated.
How can more retail founders find success as they enter uncharted territory and battle with the giants of e-commerce? It's not a fight of strength but one of speed, relevance and maneuverability.
Create Your Own Products, Serve the Vacuum
If you're a retail startup, you need to be thinking about bringing new and exclusive products to the marketplace. Amazon, for example, has acquired a strong foothold in general retail through special deals with top brands like Nike and Calvin Klein that practically already litter the web. It's impossible for you to compete with a business model that relies on ammunition that is stocked in the opponent's headquarters. Your focus needs to be on targeting niches that are either underserved or nonexistent, creating your own fashion brands and innovation, thus allowing you to sell products that are not within the ready each of the giants.
Your chance for victory here is to become an inventor and not rely on the established marketplace. A quick browse through Kickstarter will show you the potential of the "average Joe" inventor and the opportunities that continue to exist in retail. Or take a page out of startups already successfully sidestepping the established giants of e-commerce like Chloe & Isabel and MeUndies.
Some of the biggest retail brands and products are still to come and will always be on the horizon as generations' tastes evolve.
Understand the Shopper and the Tools
Once you've completed your concept, tested the market, and are ready to launch, the bulk of your time should not be spent reinventing the wheel as you work out the logistics of how you're going to deliver the product and manage sales and customer data. If you're moving toward creating an entirely new niche of babywear, for example, you need to be prepared to start collecting data on what prospects have to say about your brand, how satisfied parents are as they move through your sales funnel, why customers are buying those specific products and why they're ignoring others, what are they thinking, when they see your logo, brand colors or site design, and most importantly, building quality relationships with each client.
As a startup, your ability to create lasting, memorable relationships will be your trump card as you aim to steal clients' hearts. Be nimble, smart, and quick to start as a complete and able entity.
To Launch Online: The time from concept to launch continues to shrink since the barriers to market are literally nonexistent. There's no reason to wait until you have a complete product before launching a website, which can be done for free using website builders like IM Creator and Wix. In fact, a perfectly ready-for-market website can be built in less than an hour with almost zero experience. The point here is to not dwell on or spend too much time building a massive online warehouse, but a platform to start showcasing upcoming work, building rapport with an audience, and generating appeal and expectation for your product launch.
Managing Sales & Client Data: Integrating e-commerce point-of-sale systems is a breeze and no longer costs thousands of dollars to acquire or to pay consultants to set up. Actually, if you have an iPad, you're pretty much halfway ready to start processing payments in a physical store or online. Vend has taken POS to the cloud by offering inventory and sales management, coupled with CRM features that not only complete the sales but also help you to collect client data and use it for meaningful interactions via social media. Its POS software is an affordable, yet powerful tool for nimble startups.
Building and Maintaining the Relationships: Services such as Hootsuite and Oktopost are crucial for managing effective social media outreach campaigns and conversations with clients and the community. Remember, the e-commerce giants are playing catchup when it comes to real, genuine interactions with everyday users and monitoring opportunities. Create a culture within your startup that listens to the social network community for feedback and opportunities to give back and engage. Dedicate special personnel responsible for client interactions; it's an investment that pays huge dividends.
Making Sense of All that Data: At this point you'll have learned a lot about your market and will have a great deal of data points and metrics with which to validate your performance and potential. Use a dashboard tool like Cyfe to consolidate information from all aspects of your business from finances, traffic, IT resources, security, and more. It's an all-in-one dashboard that through dozens of APIs with services across the Web pull and present data that matters to you, helping you to make informed decisions faster.
The investment here is quite minimal and you'll gain a very insightful picture of customers, your business and the metrics that count. It doesn't take much to launch a retail-based startup with this approach which prepares you for business.
Mobile and the Hearts of the Customers
Your startup is geared for failure without a mobile strategy--point blank. Mobile is an integral part of the shopping experience as customers use their devices in stores to compare prices and share their experience or browsing from their sofa. 88 percent of people agree that having a mobile device with real-time information makes them more spontaneous with shopping and 63 percent of people are expecting to do more shopping via mobile over the next few years. If your products are not delivering a seamless experience for the end user, you're losing out on a lot. Mobile devices have already outnumbered laptop and desktop sales and are becoming a more integral part in the Internet of everything. Any philosophy other than mobile-first will set you up for failure.
In addition, your startup belongs on platforms like SnapChat and Instagram that have made the visual world sexy and fun and through mobile and become a necessity in the lives of the average customer. Pay attention to mobile and the platforms that dominate them and make your presence known there. That's where customers spend most of their free time.
See a Need, Fill a Need
There's always an opportunity to make markets and niches better. As you build your startup, assess what your target market is lacking and dedicate some resources to perfecting common complaints and difficulties consumers are experiencing.
This data is quite easy to find. A recent study by UPS below reveals a lot about online shoppers, their experiences and expectations.
A quick glance at the graphic above will give you a decent idea of the mind of the online shopper and will help validate for you the areas of your business you should focus on delivering with a bang.
If customers in your niche are upset because of poor product quality, then make provisions for topping that. If the wheels of the thingamajigs sold by competitors in your target market leave clients angry and frustrated, build better wheels. Certainly, it may seem overwhelming to try to win on all planes, but the gist here is to assess what's most important to the customer, focus on winning it, and be known for it.
As you get ready to launch or grow your startup, remember you're not trying to win on every battlefield, but choosing a vantage point that gives you access to a very specialized niche. That will give you the opportunity to set your own trends and grow without gaining too much direct attention from the menacing giants of e-commerce.