In days past, online entrepreneurs were a mere domain away from untold fortunes. All it took was a keyword-rich domain name, content and a drop-shipped product to watch Google traffic and money flow in. While Google was good at its job in the early days of search, it wasn't yet the mature experience that encompasses nearly 90 percent of online searches -- and that gap in time was the heyday for many keyword-based e-commerce stores.
But, as many learned the hard way, Google giveth and Google taketh away. Sites like StepInBathtubs.com are now irrelevant despite having almost a decade-long run. These keyword-rich "microsites" are now just another piece of Internet lore that will be talked about in the same breath as Geocities, Lycos and Myspace.
Once Google matured, brand bias matured along with it. While we once shopped for "step-in bathtubs" by typing in keywords, we now look for them at Home Depot, Lowes, Ikea or even Amazon. You might say the little guy suffers, and the large brands win. And, as it turns out, it's where users wanted to be in the first place.
This shift in search results wasn't lost on major retailers, either. Take Amazon, for example. If CEO Jeff Bezos is ever giving a thank-you speech, Google should be the first name out of his mouth. That's not to say Amazon wouldn't have become huge on its own, but the process of going from 0 to a multibillion-dollar retailer in less than a decade shows that Google played a major part.
The Rise of the Amazon Entrepreneur
Bezos isn't alone. Ever heard of Chaim Pikarski? Once a small-time entrepreneur in the camera industry, Chaim built a nine-figure business off Amazon and Chinese imports. Fast Company did a now iconic piece on Pikarski and his Amazon-centric company C&A Marketing. It has become the blueprint for many entrepreneurs I know personally.
The article is fascinating for any student of entrepreneurship. It describes how Pikarski used Amazon reviews for market research before sourcing the most wanted goods from China. By using Amazon as a market research tool, Pikarski was able to tell not only what products customers liked, but what changes they'd make. For example:
- Love a pair of ear buds but wish they came in different colors?
- Wish there was a waterproof version of your Bluetooth speaker?
- Want to be reassured that the water bottle you love is free of BPA and glows in the dark?
Pikarski saw the angle and brought the products to life.
To me, it signaled a major shift. If Google had gone dry, Amazon would have been the new playground for the nimble e-commerce entrepreneur. Amazon has the customers and the traffic. Furthermore, its pages would outrank any e-commerce stores on Google the majority of the time.
How Amazon Keeps Winning
In addition to insightful product research, Amazon delivers millions of customers to your doorstep on a daily basis. Amazon has become synonymous with online shopping. Its "Prime" subscription service has over 44 million subscribers. In a sort of new-age franchise model, Amazon now facilitates each seller with all they need to thrive in exchange for a percentage of sales.
Amazon isn't just a facilitator anymore either; with each new innovation, they're setting themselves apart as a self-contained ecosystem of research, sales and fulfillment for entrepreneurs that may never have to source inventory or even leave the house.
I live in San Diego, which is ground zero for the lifestyle Internet entrepreneur. Out of curiosity, I went looking for someone to confirm my thesis about this rise of Amazon among our lot. Enter Ryan Mulvany, who has a company here called Quiverr. Much like C&A Marketing, Quiverr designs and markets everyday products for sale on Amazon.
Mulvany was quick to mention another innovative service called Fulfillment by Amazon or FBA. "You don't have to store, pack and ship your own goods. I can send it all to Amazon, and they'll handle the logistics and warehousing," he said. This service not only saves the hassle of handling product, but it also allows you to ship goods using Prime. Amazon also then handles customer service. "Simply adding the Prime option for customers increases sales considerably," Mulvany added.
The Fulfillment service, of course, has a small fee, but it's hard to consider a scenario where it isn't worth the cost. A few short years ago, the task of running an e-commerce business included pains around sourcing traffic and handling product, returns and customer complaints. Amazon has now offered to handle it all. That's powerful and exciting.
When Will the Next Shift Arrive?
There is plenty of proof that Amazon is a new breeding ground for e-commerce entrepreneurs. The switch from "microsite" and Google traffic to FBA store and customer reviews is only a story because Google itself changed, and Amazon emerged in its wake.
So how long will the moment last? As it goes with moments, only time will tell. But you can believe there will be another Pikarski on another platform, fed up with Amazon's treatment of the little guy and ready to find a new path.