How Small Business Can Beat Amazon

By coupling more affordable cloud technology with a personalized customer experience, small retailers can eat Amazon's lunch.

When Amazon entered the retail market, it brought consumers the convenience of online shopping and two-day delivery—and it brought fear to neighborhood stores. Without the same technology to offer similar services, big brands as well as small- and middle-American brands were put on the defense. There was talk of an Amazon takeover. And while Amazon does control a major portion of the retail market, more retailers are learning that the scary future about which they were warned doesn’t have to be their fate.

Small businesses and local retailers can successfully compete against Amazon by first recognizing what they can provide that Amazon can’t—a more personalized customer experience. What’s more, when retailers couple customer experience with technology, they are able to not only match the services of Amazon, they are able to strengthen what makes small businesses special. This is how small businesses win.

The great news is that the same type of technology Amazon used to disrupt the retail market is now accessible to small businesses, and smart business owners are embracing this available technology now in order to close the competitive gap.

Cloud technology in particular is improving the way local retailers conduct business because it frees up admin time. With cloud, retailers can easily track the performance of stock, order new inventory and manage goods from multiple suppliers. Cloud also allows retailers to thoughtfully differentiate their business with specialty services that fit their customer base. And because cloud technology can be easily updated, retailers can adeptly respond to the ever-changing market with best-in-cloud technologies like artificial intelligence, machine learning and intuitive analytics.

Retailers can then use the time saved on admin responsibilities to double-down on the customer experience that is their bread and butter. Not only can they offer more time with customers, but that time can be more helpful and personalized.

For example, a customer walks into a hardware store and asks an employee if a particular tool cabinet is in stock. Utilizing new technology, there is no need for the employee to abandon the customer on the shop floor. Instead, the employee refers to their mobile device to check the store’s inventory while remaining with the customer.  If the desired cabinet is out of stock, the employee immediately asks if the customer would like one shipped, then places the order.

Let’s say this same customer frequently shops at the hardware store. After the tool cabinet is ordered, the employee uses cloud technology to recall the customer’s previous shopping history and discovers that the customer bought a charcoal grill two months ago. As a result of this readily available information, the employee asks the customer how the grill is working out and if the customer needs charcoal.

While technology improves the purchasing experience small businesses provide, the same is true for returns, which is essential for customers’ buying confidence.

Whether a purchase is completed in store or online, when consumers know they can return an item hassle-free, they are more likely to 1) shop more frequently, and 2) buy more. In fact, there is a direct relationship between higher cart totals and easier return policies. That is why technology on this front is particularly powerful for small businesses. Today’s technology grants business owners the ability to offer various “returns” services that protect the business while also empowering the customer.

Ideally, the personal interaction and employee expertise available at local retailers would limit returns and improve the odds of getting the purchase right the first time. However, when a return is needed, technology eases that process. Referring to our earlier scenario of the customer at the hardware store, perhaps the tool cabinet purchased was too large for the space and needs to be returned. Using new technology, the hardware store is prepared to handle the transaction—with or without a receipt.

If the customer brings their original receipt, it can be scanned. Alternatively, if the receipt is lost, an employee can swipe the original credit card used to make the purchase or refer to the customer’s account history.  In cases where the customer made the payment in cash or doesn’t have an account, the employee could still process a return while protecting the business from fraud. They would simply use technology to automatically search for the lowest price the item was recently sold at, then issue store credit.

These types of customer interactions—built on knowledge of the customer’s history as well as the employee’s proactive helpfulness and product expertise—develop relationships of trust and create a unique experience that can’t be replicated online.

As long as “underdog” small businesses lean in on the unique customer experiences they can provide and use technology to enhance each interaction, they will be able to compete—and even win against—the giant that is Amazon.