Can You Compete with Amazon or Walmart… and Win?!

Woe to the brick and mortar small business owner! After began offering same-day deliveries (albeit in limited locations) in time for the upcoming holiday season, the retail world has been abuzz.

Many believe (quite understandably) that the push for same-day delivery by the online mega-retailer will hurt local businesses, and it hasn’t taken long for other mega-retailers to promise almost instant gratification. Walmart has recently begun testing Walmart to Go– a service that offers same day delivery of purchases made online. Even eBay has joined in the party with it’s eBay Now service.

But if you own a small shop and see that you are in the cross-hairs of all this corporate, strategic maneuvering, you don’t have to sound the death knell just yet. If you are open to change and can do some strategic maneuvering on your own, you may just survive the onslaught. Just make sure you keep the following five points in mind:

1. First, realize that you can’t compete on price.

Amazon is a mamouth, ecommerce giant and so is Walmart. If you try to compete directly with them on price, you’re wasting your time and effort. Even when Amazon added the sales tax to the price of the products they carry (a move that the company has famously been avoiding since it was founded), many small business owners are having a hard time convincing customers to come to their stores if they are merely carrying the same products their customers can almost effortlessly purchase online. It doesn’t matter how much you are discounting or trying to keep your window display (and your store), fresh, beautiful, and stocked.

2. Re-evaluate your product and service offerings.

Are you feeling angry, resentful, anxious and/or overwhelmed that these corporate cookie monsters are taking away your customers? It’s to be expected and understood. But, you don’t necessarily have to throw up your hands and close up shop, either. Realize that just because you cannot compete on price, it doesn’t mean you can’t “compete” in other ways… and even win. But you may have to change your business model to get there. The Harvard Bookstore is a prime example of what I mean. Read this article over at Forbes, study it, and use it as a model for your own attempts at redefining your business.

3. Make sure customers can still find you online.

Since the Internet has become a medium to purchase goods, it has always favored those big businesses that have the resources to ensure that they can monopolize the coveted top spots on the search results page. But over the past year or so, as Google has quite publicly shaken-up the online search world, many online retailers and brick and mortars alike have cried afoul. How can a small business compete on those prime, relevant keywords when the likes of Amazon (and affiliates) are dominating (at least) half of the first search results page? The answer is, don’t!!! It’s a game you won’t be able to win. Focus instead on less popular and long-tail keywords, and look for other, non-search based traffic, such as via social media or by hosting a relevant forum. Again, it’s about creating a niche user experience. If you can create a focused community around your site you will be in a better position to bring in targeted (paying) traffic.

4. Re-vamp your loyalty programs.

If you are not including social media in your loyalty program in some way, then chances are pretty good that you are losing customers. In addition to the “marquee” networks, such as Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn, there are many, many social media platforms out there that small business owners could use to vamp up their loyalty programs. Some examples include: social recommendations sites, such as Gowalla and Yelp; social check-in sites, dominated by Foursquare; daily deals sites, such as Groupon and LivingSocial, and smaller, new kids on the block, such as Belly. If you are just starting out, pick two or three networks for your business where you will invest some time and money. Take a look at some of these platforms, do your research, and figure out what will work for your business.

5. Reach out to your local community.

If you go about researching ways to market your local business (especially if you want “on the cheap”), you’ll find countless articles from marketing gurus who advocate sponsoring community events and giving to local charitable causes. While this may create some good feelings about your business; it may not necessarily convert to an increase in sales. So does that mean you should scrap your plans for these events and publicized acts of kindness? No. But you have to be smarter with them. You are looking for the kinds of events that will build a community around your business. To know which events will do that, you’ll have to invest yourself in some good, old-fashioned market research.

So, if you own a small, local shop and you don’t want to lose it all to some big corporate bulldozer, know that with openness, flexibility, and effort, there’s still a chance you’ll come out winning.