The early days of Amazon were all about books. Through diversification, acquisitions, and the introduction of third-party “marketplace” vendors, it’s hard to name a product that Amazon doesn’t sell, maybe cars? Include services from cloud hosting to streaming video, and it’s easy to see how the eCommerce giant dominates or at least has a strong presence in many sectors. How do niche eCommerce websites compete with Amazon and other general eCommerce websites?
The Popularity of eCommerce Websites with a Broad Selection of Products
In the survey “Reasons for internet users in the United States to shop on Amazon as of January 2020”, 68.9% responded “broad selection of products,” the second most popular reason given. Many feel that Amazon sells “everything that they need,” building a base of loyal and frequent shoppers. (See the full survey results: “Increase Sales on Your ECommerce Website Using Amazon As an Example of What to Do and NOT to Do”)
When asking online shoppers in general. 50% of those asked responded, a “wide selection of products,” third to “competitive pricing” and “free shipping:”
When Shopping Online, what are the most important factors that influence you to shop at a particular retailer?
In recent years Walmart decided to compete with Amazon by offering products from third-party vendors and upped the game for all of the larger online retailers.
While one-stop shopping is convenient, there are many other benefits for a customer to have one site as the go-to for online shopping:
- The customer is familiar with the site and how it works, which is particularly valuable for those that are less comfortable shopping online.
How to Complete: While a shopper may not be coming to your website daily, ensure that your website is easy to navigate and intuitive to use to make customers feel more comfortable using the site.
- The site already has all the customer’s details and preferences: credit cards, shipping addresses, etc.
How to Complete: A shopper will have to enter details when using your site the first time, so ensure that it is simple and clear how to do so and enable the user to save these details for future purchases.
- The customer is likely to know the cut-offs for next-day delivery, what to expect from the delivery process, and how the returns and refunds processes work and are more likely to trust the information given.
How to Complete: Clearly communicate shipping options, cut-offs for next day delivery, etc. and ensure that the carriers you use are reliable so that the customer has the confidence to use you in the future.
The customer can save on shipping costs by purchasing multiple items together, sometimes even if coming in separate shipments or from different vendors (i.e., Amazon fulfillment versus third-party marketplace vendor fulfillment).
How to Complete: Ensure that your shipping methods and costs are as competitive as possible with popular eCommerce sites offering similar products and are in line with your target audience’s preferences.
See more on shipping: “How to Increase Sales on Your eCommerce Website – Learning From Amazon’s Shipping Experience.”
- Amazon Prime is the best example of a customer loyalty program built to keep customers returning. Walmart and most other larger retailers with online shopping have loyalty or cashback programs.
How to Complete: If financially feasible, put a loyalty program in place. If not possible, ensure that your pricing and services are competitive enough that your products aren’t too pricey to compete. Keep in mind that customers may be willing to pay more if they feel there is a benefit or other added value to purchasing from you.
- The customer’s friends and acquaintances are likely to use the site, and all can benefit from their recommendations and suggestions.
How to Complete: Use social media, sometimes referred to as ”word of mouth advertising on steroids,” and other ways of engaging your customers to build a community that attracts new customers and encourages repeat sales.
The Advantages of Niche eCommerce Websites for Online Shoppers
With a niche eCommerce website, the obvious benefit is lower cost and easier inventory management, but there are many other benefits to take advantage of:
- Niche eCommerce websites can be much more user friendly.
While these more extensive sites have spent a lot of money and time studying and implementing optimum user experience, so many categories and products are likely to confuse. Customers may find it hard to find a product to decide between different versions of a product. Such confusion is common with products offered by Amazon’s and Walmart’s third-party marketplace vendors because multiple vendors provide the same product, and often the product names and descriptions are poorly written.
Ensure that your products are logically categorized, named, and described in a manner that is logical in the eyes of your target market, not just your own. Provide users with different ways to navigate and find products: main navigation by category, additional navigation by use or other relevant elements, on-site search, suggested products, “others also purchased,” etc.
- Shoppers may be more likely to think of a niche eCommerce website when looking for something specific.
While Amazon and Walmart are known for having “everything” either shop is less likely to come to mind when looking for something specific. Staples is known for office supplies, Barnes and Noble is known for books, etc.
When determining the mix of products you are offering, ensure to develop a cohesive collection that will represent your brand. Use all of your marketing channels, online and offline, to establish and maintain this clearly in the minds of your target audience.
- A niche eCommerce website is more likely to provide relevant information and support for the products offered.
There will be a significant segment of shoppers that prefer to purchase from specialist sites that can provide assistance and expertise as needed.
Highlight on your site if you specialize in particular products or categories of products and give this kind of support. Include articles on your website, shared in social media, giving advice, and in-depth information on all aspects of your products to reinforce this. Offer expert knowledge and opinions on the topic where opportunities arise: articles in relevant publications, partnering with related businesses and organizations, etc.
- A niche eCommerce website can be easier to market because the topics are more narrow, and you are more likely to have the expertise to generate relevant quality content.
A well-optimized and managed site can rank well for related phrases regardless of how wide-ranging the topics are, but general eCommerce sites have to generate content and links for a broader range of phrases.
The target audience of a niche eCommerce website is likely to have more common interests making it easier to develop a successful strategy to optimize and rank for relevant search phrases and to deliver content that is interesting and engaging to this audience.
Examples of Successful Niche eCommerce Websites
- Grove Collaborative, Inc. is a solely online retailer that sells natural household and personal care products.
In the article “Excellent Customer Service,” I use Grove as an example of how to use superior service to build a loyal customer base and increase sales. In September 2019, Grove announced that the value of the company had surpassed $1 Billion. While Grove has added natural cosmetics to their offerings, they do this under a separate brand, Roven, that has a separate section on the website to keep the brands distinct.
- Chewy Inc. is solely an online retailer that sells pet food and accessories.
Traditional pet store chain PetSmart purchased Chewy for $3.35 billion in 2017, the largest acquisition of an eCommerce business that had taken place by that time.
- Dick’s Sporting Goods, Inc. is primarily a “bricks and mortar” retailer with a substantial eCommerce element.
Dick’s is the U.S.’s largest retailer of sporting goods. The eCommerce aspect of the business allowed them to continue to trade during mandated closures due to the pandemic, which saw an increased interest in sporting goods. Within the niche of sporting goods, Dick’s has found success by setting up more defined subsidiaries, each with its own identity: Field and Stream and Golf Galaxy.
All of these niche eCommerce websites offer a wide range of products but within their specific niche, for which they are well known. Follow their example and balance the desire of online shoppers for a broad range of offerings with your target market’s specific needs and interests, using the points noted above to provide an excellent eCommerce experience to build customer loyalty and sales.