If you're a startup or small business, how do you fight with someone 3 times....no....1000 times bigger than you? You will not come across this incredible challenge in real life but in virtual world, small store owners are doing the same every day by competing with gigantic brands like Amazon, Ebay, and FlipKart. Big online stores have everything working for them:

  • Big user base
  • Endless supply of funds
  • Brand loyalty
  • Google's preference

Given these challenges, I asked Manish Bhalla, founder and CEO of web solutions company FATbit Technologies to share his tips and practical ideas for small businesses and startups to maximize their e-commerce returns.

1. Differentiate your brand from others

Even if you keep out the big e-commerce players, there are tens of thousands of online stores selling products. In such choking conditions, brand differentiation can help you stand out. But it is easier said than done as rules vary from industry to industry. For instance, if you are into retail, then, you cannot think about product differentiation. Brand differentiation for businesses in retail will happen on:

  • Concept
  • Pricing
  • Add-on services like home delivery
  • Personal connect

Because price wars don't make much sense for small businesses, the other three factors will be the game changers. For businesses associated with creative products and distinctive offerings, there is ample scope to differentiate. So, the point is that 'uniqueness sells'.

2. Join hands with other small businesses

In the good old days, smaller kingdoms joined forces to protect themselves from much bigger adversaries. Follow the same strategy and partner with non-competitive service providers of your industry that match your quality standards and fits perfectly into your brand vision.

An online store dealing in ethnic wear partnering with an accessories store makes perfect sense to generate sales. Similar business partnerships can open doors to new visitors and widen your audience base.

The challenge on the technical side is not huge, and once it is done with, be prepared for a jump in business.

3. Don't ignore the big players

Like it or not, your big e-commerce competitor has millions of registered users. Plus it has all the advantages mentioned in the beginning of the post. So, wouldn't it be a great marketing move to list your products on its store?

This is a lucrative possibility for businesses competing with multivendor stores. This will not only introduce your brand to new audience base but also push up your sales. Managing the listing and logistics can be overwhelming for some but if you can manage that, infiltrate with full force!

In fashion industry, independent boutiques become part of websites like  Farfetch to hit bigger sales figures.

4. Give local flavor to your products

For big brands, it is always a challenge to understand demands of a smaller user group. Small businesses on the other hand have better understanding of what their target audience needs and can deliver products as per local habits and preferences. Product turnaround time is also less for smaller businesses.

This is one tactic deployed by local Chinese brands to compete with much bigger competitors like Tesco, Walmart, and Gap. So, there is no reason why you cannot replicate the same.

The only thing required to make this tactic work is local insights. If you have it, then, go ahead and start tailoring.

5. Market your brand like crazy

If you really think you have a better product and service proposition, then, don't hesitate to use multiple marketing channels. Social media can be real game changer for small businesses. If you can spare the time, then, be active on multiple channels to speak about your brand and start conversations with your target group. Joining relevant groups too can benefit.

6. Flaunt your local status and identity

Do you want to grow and prosper in a specific area only? If yes, then, make "local" part of your overall branding. This will strengthen the bond between your audience and business. If you are just starting, then, planning branding elements like logo, merchandise, and store interiors accordingly.

There are business network groups and organizations that can be joined to become part of the "buy local" movement. Join for:

  • New business openings
  • Referral meet-ups
  • Small business workshops
  • Mutually beneficial partnerships

7. Deliver unforgettable buyer experiences

Do you think people only care about getting discounts? Wrong! A 2014 study conducted by AYTM Market Research stated that personal service was the second most important factor that makes buyers chose small businesses over big. In fact, 61.2% of the respondents stated that they won't mind paying a little extra to keep small businesses competitive. Various other studies verify the same while emphasizing on the importance of personal business relationships.

Published on: Nov 19, 2015