How to compete with Amazon as a smaller online retailer: fight against the white shark

Amazon is the company all retailers love to hate. On the virtual playground that is the e-commerce marketplace, Amazon is the monstrous big kid that takes your pocket money during the lunch break and leaves you clenching your fists in frustration. In the comics universe, Amazon is all the brute villains rolled into one.

And it’s not just because of the annoying fact that Amazon made around $75 billion in 2013 net sales, being larger than the next dozen e-commerce companies in a row, altogether; statistics also show that apart from Amazon, most online-only merchants are actually losing market share and have been suffering from painful profit loss.

This is both annoying and frightening. As the analysts at Forrester Research once put it, for many businesses, ‘Amazon is simultaneously a sales channel, a potential service provider and a competitive threat.’

How can smaller e-commerce players beat Amazon?

Even if the odds are against the smaller players, the game is far from being over. Agile, disruptive thinking can help you stand the fight against Amazon.

In the following, we will review some innovative ways to turn it all around.

Fight against webrooming and triumph over Amazon by showing your products in real time

Showrooming means an existential threat to retail companies as customers look around at stores first, pick products they like, then hit the internet to actually purchase it – often at a lower price. For ecommerce businesses, this might mean an opportunity. However, as you may have already guessed, Amazon is the No.1. place where these people end up making their purchases.

In this merciless Darwinian environment, the big white shark takes it all and the small fish in the sea can’t help but look on the feast.

What can these ‘small fish’ ecommerce and retail companies do? Move to a different bay and keep on adapting to new challenges.

For example, a new ‘blue ocean’ territory can be webrooming (or in other words, ‘reverse showrooming’), aka customers browsing products online first, then purchasing them at physical stores. It’s no micro-trend; two-thirds of customers are estimated to actually be doing so. Just think about all the loss this has generated in the ecommerce world until now.

Good news: disruptive technology can help you reverse these trends and perform better than your fierce competitors.

For instance, why do you think those customers ultimately choose to buy the products offline? Because they want to see and ‘feel’ them in more detail!

This is an area where Amazon is very weak. There is no sexiness about the way they present their product offer. No wonder customers are longing for a more experiential, uplifting experience before actually making a purchase decision.

New solutions can help you show your products online and in real time, in all their dimensions. For instance, you can use Whisbi to let your customers see the products through the ‘eyes’ of your sales people through real-time video streamed with smart glasses such as Google Glass, Epson or the camera of an Android smartphone.

This unique customer experience brings online shopping much closer to a sensory in-store visit – making it easier for customers to make instant purchase decisions instead of abandoning their carts and continue the journey offline. This is so much more fascinating than shopping on Amazon can ever get!

Capture customers’ imagination to boost cross-selling and upselling  

As some experts cleverly pointed out, one of Amazon’s key weak points is the lack of ‘human touch’. Just like the allegorical 800-pound gorilla, Amazon is not very skillful when it comes to using its emotional intelligence.


They are quite potent when customers have a pretty solid idea about what they’re exactly looking for. They use algorithmic merchandising logics, for example “People searching for ‘X’ also looked at ‘Y’.”

For you as a smaller e-tailer, this is a great opportunity. For example, you can put extra effort in orientating customers during the ‘discovery’ process and inspire them in a sophisticated way. Artificial intelligence (or pre-set product matching algorithms) can never reach this level.

You can turn your sales people into ‘experts’ of the certain field who truly understand your customers’ deepest feelings and desires. Then, for example, they can use solutions like co-browsing to show exciting potential alternatives in real time, address concerns quickly and share an interactive online experience with customers.

This way, you can explore and leverage cross-selling and upselling opportunities in a very intuitive and effective way. Humans vs Robots, 1:0.

Don’t let customers out of your hands – engage them in real time:

Successful e-commerce businesses understand the art of storytelling that perfectly represents their chosen customer culture.

However, it’s too risky to just create a great-looking website and wait for your customers to walk into your arms.


It is partly because people might have a completely different mindset when visiting Amazon (i.e. purposefully looking for a certain product) versus stumbling upon a small online vendor’s website designed around a specific lifestyle or product category. This latter may be much more similar to impulse buying, with all its joys and uncertainties. Sales conversion is far from being guaranteed.

What can you do if you can’t make sure you can actively reach all the customers you want? You have to encourage them to reach out to you instead. If you can capture them at the right moment and allay their concerns and hesitation, you can improve your chances of converting more visitors into actual buyers.

For example, you can use engaging Call-to-Action buttons that provide your customers with convenient communication options such as a free callback.

Combining such interactions with unexpected value added elements such as showing the face of your sales people via live video or showing selected offers in real time can help make the customer experience truly attractive and personalized. This way, you can also build trust and rapport in real time, letting your customers know that you are an advisor that puts customers’ interests in the first place, not your profit margin.

See Whisbi’s arsenal of superweapons in action.

Written by Zsofia Kerekes / Whisbi