5 Lessons Startup Ecommerce Stores Should Learn From Large Brands

Seth Godin once wrote about The Merchants of Average and he waxed eloquent on how the world pushes you to “fit in.” It demands that you follow the norm. “Be like us,” “Do what we do,” and “This is the way we do things around here.”

He extols the need to stand out. Be the outlier. Do something else. How does that apply to startups? Nothing you do should have to be the way you are expected to do things. You can do what the large brands do to succeed. You can do anything.

So, there are lessons we can glean from some of those large, successful brands. We can learn a thing or two from them. Here are a few lessons smaller ecommerce stores can pick from large brands:

The need for speed, focus, and clarity

Granted that Amazon, eBay, and Etsy have anything but focus when it comes to product range or product categories. They are successful not as niche ecommerce sites but as huge general retailers. The focus, however, is on other things such as customer service, marketing, page load times, and making the store better with every passing day. Other sites such as eBay focus on trying to make it as easy as possible to list products and buying them.

You can’t complete with Amazon, eBay, and Etsy – they are just too big for you to try. You can, however, build ecommerce stores that focus on a particular niche. Dominate that niche with lessons picked from these larger brands.

Insane customer support

With big, established brands, entire teams are hired and trained on customer support. It’s a website, but it’s backed by teams that operate almost as if it’s a Target or a Wal-Mart. Smaller ecommerce stores tend to wait until their customer support queries grow large enough to demand support teams, and that’s a mistake. If you did everything right, you’d need a team (or teams) to manage customers. Startup retailers can gain competitive advantage just by supporting customers faster, better, and quicker.

Further, being leaner, you have the chance to be the underdog that bites. According to this article by Carol Tice on Forbes.com, polarity works well with your business strategy. You can challenge established businesses and it’s usually the underdogs who get the attention. She also points out that you can build stronger bonds with customers, make offers better, and work to build a community a la Harley-Davidson.

Leverage access to technology

Here’s the best part about the Internet: brands – both large and small – now stand on a level playground. As a small ecommerce website, you still have access to more or less the same tools as the retail behemoths; just the plans or pricing changes. You could tap into CRM solutions like Salesforce.com or SugarCRM. You could even pick one of the smaller and more focused CRM solutions such as Base. Now, this applies to tools across all industries, niches and categories in business. You are able to do exactly what the large brands do.

Maybe successful ecommerce stores have teams – but you have “you.” They have money, you have guts and passion. They have a “board” and a “CEO,” you are the whole board of directors, thanks to technology and the spread of information.

Marketing footprints

Social media networks are accessible for everyone. So if Amazon or eBay can have Facebook pages, Twitter accounts, and LinkedIn company pages, so can you. In fact, most popular ecommerce stores don’t even have a full-fledged, all-inclusive, strategic approach to marketing. You still have that chance. Do digital marketing well and you could very well give your competition a run for their money.

The key is to remain consistent. But before you can be consistent, you need need a strong positioning, USP, and a way to strike at the hearts of your customers. You need to make compelling offers and stand out just by playing nice where there is demand. Choose a few competitive or general ecommerce sites and other businesses and watch them closely. Analyze what they’re doing well on Facebook, for instance. There’s relentless work in coming up with tempting product offers, holding contests, optimizing landing pages, redesigning your layout, devising a mobile strategy, and a lot more areas you’ve never thought of.

The secret called tweaked persistence

The one thing that differentiates the big boys in retail from startup stores is their “persistence with tweaks.” Successful ecommerce sites keep doing what works for them, and keep finding more of what works for them. Their business vision or mission statement is fluid at best.

They invest in what it takes to bring a better ROI on their investments. They market continuously, they hire dedicated teams to support their customers, and they build relationships with their customers every single day—one story, tweet, or support ticket at a time.

Small ecommerce stores take a while to become as persistent as the successful ones already are. One blog post this week and no blog posts for the next three weeks, support tickets that take forever to close, and deserted social media pages. Sound familiar?

Team or no team, good or bad, the lesser denizens of ecommerce have a chance to do really well if they are persistent enough, if they test and tweak their business processes continuously.

Everything that’s big today was small at one point. The path of growth isn’t the same for every business but there are patterns to success. You could own those patterns. You can still follow the footsteps of big and growing ecommerce sites, and learn every day.

What works for you apart from your products? How do you intend to leave your competition behind? What do you do to stand out? Please tell me in the comments.

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Written by:
Tracy Vides is an independent researcher and content strategist, who blogs about things as diverse as tech, fashion, cars, and finance. You can follow her on Twitter @TracyVides or catch all her posts on Google+.
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