Amazon Isn’t the Only Way

It’s no secret that Amazon is all but synonymous with ecommerce. For years, it’s kept a firm grip on the No. 1 online retailer spot in the U.S.—a ranking that’s only been heaved higher by the coronavirus pandemic. And with nearly 40% of all of America’s online sales in its pocket, it’s increasingly tough for merchants to stay away from its magnetic pull.

Massive marketplaces like Amazon tempt merchants every day with the benefits of an established infrastructure, a tested flow, nailed down logistics, deep reach to millions of shoppers, and an ad game like none other (plus, the whole tight association with online shopping thing mentioned earlier).

Ya know, just li’l stuff like that.

But while Amazon may seem like a tempting shortcut to startups looking for a relatively fast and easy way to start selling with proven methods, it’s time to think twice before succumbing to all those sweet nothings Amazon is whispering in your ecommerce ear. The darker side of selling on a massive marketplace includes a lot of added fees, slim margins, smaller profits, and—the real kicker—aborting your brand and bidding au revoir to your own flavor of customer experience.

You might believe that joining the millions of merchants who sell stuff on Amazon might be your best solution to creating the Gold Star customer journey, but we’re here to say there are other options that are as simple to set up, provide a memorable customer experience, drive differentiation between your store and the competition, and don’t stronghold you into giving up the brand you’ve worked so hard to build.  

Let’s explore four ways independent brands don’t have to turn to Amazon in order to give their customers a great shopping experience.

What’s the Beef with Amazon?

Maybe Amazon is the best way for you to sell your wares to the masses. It does have its fair share of features that make selling through the marketplace alluring. For instance, in 2019, nearly half of product searches started on Amazon instead of Google or other search engines. When selling solely through an independent D2C website, ranking well and getting traffic can be one of the most immediate and intimidating challenges.

Plus, Amazon’s tried-and-true interface takes the pressure off of figuring out what the best flow for your customers is from shopping to checkout. However, aside from these built-in features that remove a lot of barriers to selling for merchants, there’s a dark less appealing side to Amazon marketplace that every seller should consider.

We’re not talking about the fees or the cut they take from every sale. We aren’t here to give a dissertation on how they control who gets to sell what and when (especially during large-scale interruptions like a global pandemic). We’re not even going to mention the risk that the almighty Amazon can duplicate what you’re selling and undercut you without thinking twice.

Nope. We’re going to focus on how when merchants sell on Amazon, they’re giving up much more—their brand. And it’s not just relinquishing the opportunity to plaster your brand name, logo, or mantra on the product page. Instead, selling on Amazon strips down your brand and the experience you can offer your customers. Your product page is stark and white, dotted with a couple product images, a description, and a Buy Now button.

There’s no explanation of values, no enticing web design, no unboxing experience fit for the ‘Gram. No individuality, no differentiation, and no memorable customer experience other than an automated tracking email and a ubiquitous Amazon box dropped at the door a couple days later.

In essence, the experience between your brand and customers is a big ol’ “meh.” And as corny as this sounds, there’s a better way.

The Customer Experience: Out-of-the-box Amazon Vs. D2C Brand

In a nutshell, merchants get lost in a sea of competitors, and when all is said and done, there’s no reason for the buyer to remember your brand. For example, when shopping for a fresh Homesick candle on Amazon versus their D2C website, the differences are...blunt.

The Amazon search pulls up some Homesick candles—and all their friends! The Best Seller tag is slapped on a candle from a competitor, and their expansive array of Homesick options are tough to find. It wouldn’t take much for a shopper to go astray, purchase another candle, get funneled through the blanket Amazon post-purchase experience, and never think about Homesick again.

When shopping directly from the Homesick website, though, the difference in experience and branding is staggering. Visually, the difference is a refreshing vacay from Amazon’s blah essence. But the experience is layered with enticing product imagery, including a look at the package shoppers can expect, branded (and heartwarming) messaging, company background,  customer discounts, and the promise of free shipping in their future.

This is just one example out of hundreds of thousands where a brand makes a full, memorable, customer experience that both reflects the brand’s independence and values as well as creates trust through transparency and clarity.

The best news? All of it is possible without leaning on Amazon.

It’s possible for independent merchants to sell through their own website, stay competitive, and create an impactful and engaging customer journey without having a fat billfold or caving to crowded marketplaces.

Craft a Customer Experience that Beats Amazon Every Time

One of Amazon’s most sought-after traits is the journey it sends shoppers on. Amazon’s been evolving the customer journey since it came of age with the dawn of ecommerce, and it’s long been the goal for merchants. As mentioned earlier, its well-known interface and automation across fulfillment are big factors that push people to sell there.

But independent brands, makers, and merchants can easily build a better customer experience that not only ticks all the boxes of Amazon, but also differentiates your brand and builds customer loyalty.

Ecommerce platforms have evolved to the point where merchants can start selling almost immediately—just add some products and you’re basically good to go. DIY platforms like Shopify, BigCommerce, and Squarespace empower pretty much anyone to embark on their entrepreneurial dreams. With a beautiful site under your belt, what’s next? The customer experience.

Amazon doesn’t let brands shine in their marketplace. But with the right tools at your disposal, D2C brands can craft the experiences that customers want, especially in everything that happens past checkout. Explore these four tactics to a customer experience not possible with massive marketplaces.

1. Offer Tracking for the Modern Consumer
Order tracking is one area of ecommerce that’s gone relatively untouched since the ‘90s—including with Amazon. While customers can see the status of their package by checking their Amazon account or clicking through an automated confirmation email, the experience is still lackluster.

Even when shopping on a marketplace that’s deemed to be tops, this experience is vague and impersonal (unless you want your customers to be left guessing what order #111-2635192 could be, then Amazon is your best bet).

The content of the emails is just as foggy and often sends customers clicking away somewhere else to find the information they want. These emails are void of transparency and, most importantly, your brand.

Ecommerce app Route is rethinking how customers track their packages and giving merchants the tools they need to provide a better experience than what Amazon offers. With Route, merchants can offer Visual Tracking™ for everything a customer buys.

In place of nonspecific automated emails, customers can watch their purchase move from place to place on a real map, in real time, until it hits their doorstep. (And when it does, they’ll also get a pop-up notification letting them know their goods have been delivered.)

By giving customers an opportunity to see all of the post-purchase details—item purchased, destination, exact location, expected delivery date—in one place, brands are providing peace of mind.

With 85% of U.S. consumers saying transparency is more important than ever, the unclear post-purchase experience offered by Amazon is simply missing the mark. Brands that provide a modern tracking experience cut down on support costs from folks asking “Where is my order?” as well as increase repeat purchases from customers who want another taste of transparency.

2. Protect Every Purchase to Show You Give a Darn

Consider offering package protection and adding the option into your checkout experience. With Route package protection, customers can choose to insure their purchases for basically pocket change, against theft, damage, wormholes, sandworms, loss—if the purchase isn’t meeting expectations, it’s protected.

Even if a customer chooses not tag on an extra buck or two for protection, knowing that they could is an incentive to come back. It’s a sign of trust and support that’s available should they want it, which is tough to come by throughout the customer journey in a marketplace. This extra level of care and thought enhances how people experience your brand.

3. Engage with Customers to Build the Relationship
Remember that post-purchase email from Amazon? While it did confirm an order, it didn’t do anything to make the experience easy or memorable. It didn’t draw any connection between brand and customer, and the entire experience lacked the engagement that shoppers are hungry for.

Ninety-five percent of customers want proactive communications from the places they shop. People don’t want to go digging for information or updates, which is exactly what they have to do when shopping through Amazon.

When using Route to engage with customers, merchants go from an anonymous order ID number in a subject line to a fully branded proactive message stuffed with relevant information. Route’s notifications put brands at the forefront while answering a customer’s question before they even ask.

4. Easily Resolve Order Issues

Feeling unappreciated is the #1 reason customers switch products or brands. After all, in the world of ecommerce, the customer is putting a lot of faith in your service. They hand over money hoping they’ll get their purchase in tact and on time—but it’s never guaranteed. And when a company accepts their payment but doesn’t deliver on that expectation, well, people leave.

This is why providing easy, caring support to customers when issues arise is critical. In fact, 64% of people find customer experience more important than price, which makes it a huge factor in determining whether or not a customer comes back to buy from your store.  

While Amazon is known for providing great customer support when purchases arrive damaged, aren’t right, or get lost, it’s not the easiest experience this side of the Mississippi. In many cases, the customer has to return the item before a refund is processed, often having to pay return shipping or have it deducted from their refund.

With Route, merchants can resolve the majority of issues instantly. Automatic resolution means lost, damaged, or stolen items are replaced quicker, leaving customers feeling acknowledged, appreciated, and happy. And if you’re selling online, you know that a happy customer is a loyal customer.  

Better Customer Experiences Live Beyond the Marketplace

Ecommerce is growing faster than anticipated, eating up more and more of the total retail market share pie—and Amazon is leading the way in the U.S. Despite thriving beyond expectations in regard to growth, the experience customers have with Amazon is falling short of what customers actually want.

Today’s shoppers want engagement, meaningful communication, and protection against anything that keeps their purchases from reaching their homes. So while you’re looking to grow your brand, turning to a massive marketplace isn’t always the answer. Instead, turn to the tools that empower merchants to create trust, engagement, and long-lasting loyalty without forking over your brand in the process.