Worried About Amazon Taking Over Your Industry? Here's What to Do

In the past decade, Amazon pulled the rug out from under traditional brick-and-mortar companies. Now, Amazon continues to grow–taking a big piece of the e-commerce pie–while other major brands are grappling with the threat of bankruptcy and profit loss.

Traditional players are struggling to stay relevant and meet their bottom line as they compete with Amazon. But, agile and savvy online businesses are finding massive success taking advantage of new ways to sell and interact with customers.

So, how did Amazon impact the way companies interact with consumers? And, how can an online business find success in Amazon’s world? Here are a few key trends that business owners can leverage for themselves.

Ditch the old models–they no longer serve you.

There’s no question that Amazon is impacting most aspects of selling. If you take a closer look, however, you’ll notice that not all companies are experiencing a decline. In fact, there’s a trend among the companies that are struggling, including those that have filed for bankruptcy, like Toys R Us and Radio Shack.

They’re channel sellers: companies that sell a selection of products manufactured by other brands. With more than 500 million stock keeping units (SKU), product identification codes, Amazon has taken much of the channel sales business for itself.

Before Amazon and e-commerce, consumers would go to a grocery store to get food items, then a convenience store for things like toothpaste, and then a clothing store for basics like socks. Now, they can buy all of these items at affordable prices in one place: Amazon.

Embrace the new direct-to-consumer model.

While Amazon has made traditional channel selling obsolete, it has also created opportunities for nimble, direct-to-consumer companies. These companies are successful because they’re able to differentiate themselves from Amazon. If you’re looking for a specific product, you can find it on Amazon pretty easily. When you want something unique, maybe for a gift, Amazon isn’t the best option. You might pore over pages of products and feel overwhelmed or dissatisfied by the choices.

Instead, you can buy from a direct-to-consumer company that specializes in niche items with a personalized, curated buying experience. These companies are able to build authentic relationships with their customers in ways that weren’t possible before the Internet. That’s in part because there are now many ways to connect directly with a customer online, including social media, a website, and online forums like Quora or Medium.

Bikini Luxe, for example, sells designer swimwear online and uses unique social media tactics to engage with its audience. The company isn’t afraid to take risks, posting a picture of Miss Universe contestant Natalie Roser in a bikini on LinkedIn with the caption, “Is this appropriate for LinkedIn?” The controversial post garnered 50,000 views and boosted sales by 20 percent.

These companies typically have smaller teams with low overhead, unique merchandise, and successful customer acquisition tactics. Many of these brands are generating over $10 million in sales each by using e-commerce platforms and social networks to keep expenses to a minimum.

Quickly iterate with customer feedback.

If customers had product feedback after purchasing from a channel seller, their complaint or suggestion wouldn’t get very far. The teams building the products aren’t regularly talking to the sales employees or their end customers.

Direct-to-consumer brands are able to engage with customers one-on-one, and then make sure the feedback gets to the right person. They’re also able to change the product much faster if there is a problem.

Adapt to new ways of buying.

Consumers are increasingly buying more goods online. Statistia predicts there will be 2.14 billion digital buyers globally by 2021. And according to Nielsen, seven in ten Internet users trust the brand website and consumer opinions over traditional forms of marketing and advertising.

These smaller brands are better able to take advantage of selling via social media, mobile, etc. For example, in general, consumers typically wouldn’t follow a channel seller like Amazon on Instagram, because there’s no emotional connection to their products. But, many follow niche businesses on Instagram, because their products and engagement have greater emotional appeal for the consumer.  

Be nimble.

Direct-to-consumer brands typically have less bureaucracy to deal with, so they can quickly adapt to consumer trends. We’re seeing savvy brands move from one selling technique to the next until they find success. Traditional, larger teams with more red tape aren’t able to make those kinds of decisions quickly, and end up losing money from either outdated tactics or slow-to-market approaches.

There’s no denying that Amazon is impacting the retail industry. But, it is also a great time to own an e-commerce business. Savvy, niche online sellers can be successful by taking advantage of this new retail landscape.

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Etsy Is Charging a 5 Percent Fee on Sales and Shipping Fees. Here's How to Offset It

I’ve been an Etsy seller for over two years selling everything from funny mugs to whimsical yoga mats. My Etsy shop has been a great source of extra income and has been an incredible distribution channel. As of July 16th, Etsy will charge a 5 percent fee on all product sales and shipping fees. Though I love the platform, when I saw their fees will rise from 3.5 percent to 5 percent, I groaned in unison with many Etsy shopkeeps.

Taking a deeper dive into why Etsy chose to raise fees, I learned that they plan to use a portion of the extra funds to build a more robust marketing program. The new program will allocate more funds toward customer service making the Etsy experience better for both the buyer and the seller. For Etsy to remain competitive in a saturated digital world, extra funds spent on customer service will help their platform remain competitive among e-commerce giants including Ebay and Amazon.  

Though the increase may be necessary, it’s also left many sellers scratching their head wondering what to do next. Here are three things you can do to offset the new 1.5% fee and remain a competitive seller on Etsy.

1. Increase your prices to remain profitable.

When I first started my Etsy shop, I was shocked when tax time came around–I had been losing money on a few products after taking into account seller fees and taxes. I slowly started to increase my prices to reflect the time and effort I put into producing each item. Surprisingly, I found my sales numbers unfazed. Initially, I thought the price increase would deter customers but after marking up my items more than 30%, I’m happy to report that sales have only increased.
Like Etsy, you also have the opportunity to also increase your prices if you so choose. Use the fee raise as an opportunity to figure out your break even point and how many units you need to sell to meet your goals. Scared of what your customers might think of an increase? One easy way to get feedback on product pricing is to simply post the product to your personal Facebook or Instagram and say “How much would you buy this for?” The answers might surprise you.

2. Reevaluate your shipping cost sand see where else you can cut costs.

A 5 percent fee on all shipping transactions can quickly add up. Take a look at how you’ve set your shipping rates and increase your prices to take into account the 5 percent fee. “Many sellers don’t make a profit on shipping .” says Susan Shapiro of Etsy shop Susabellas. “Re-evaluate your current shipping service. Website likes Stamps.com can show you the lowest shipping rate possible and Etsy also offer commercial based pricing with USPS. You can save anywhere from 5-39 percent on certain services.  By switching shipping providers you may be able to save much more than the new 5 percent fee.”

Not only can you use Etsy’s fee raise as an opportunity to evaluate your pricing, but also your business practices. From your packaging to product materials, there may be a more inexpensive supplier that could help you lower your production costs.

3. Work on your marketing and SEO to sell more.

Even with Etsy’s new fee structure you still have the opportunity to become even more profitable than before. A 1.5 percent fee can quickly be offset by selling just a few more units per month depending on your margins. Invest time experimenting with ads and double down on your social marketing efforts.

Spend a couple of hours this weekend optimizing your listings. From optimizing your tags to taking better photos, a few small tweaks could pay dividends for you in the coming months. Generating more profit can quickly help you compensate for the new fees. 
Though a fee raise is never fun, you have the power to also change your business to reflect the changes. Grab a calculator and get to work restructuring your own prices and business practices.

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Amazfit Bip Smartwatch Review: Taking The Casio Approach to Beating The Apple Watch

I received the Amazfit Bip smartwatch to review at the start of March. On opening the retail packing, i charged the wearable up. Near the end of the April I gave it a second full charge. Last week the lightweight peripheral picked up its third charge, and is currently on 81 percent charge as I write this review.

If you are looking for one of the key selling points, then having a battery life measured in weeks has to be first on your list, unlike the hungry Apple Watch and Wear OS (nee Android Wear) smartwatches, Even the 5 day battery life of the Pebble family still left a little tickle in my brain of ‘where/when is the next charging point’. The Bip is one of the first smartwatches where I can effectively forget about charging. It’s there, it works, end of discussion.

The second key selling point is price. Launched in the US at $99, the Amazfit Bip has had a number of offers and voucher deals, so it’s possible to pick it up with a bit of hunting as low as $69,

Ewan Spence

Amazfit Bip Smartwatch (Ewan Spence)

Of course there are compromises to get to that price. How these will impact on your experience comes down to what you want from your smartwatch. If you are looking for a huge amount of information, wrist-based applications, and the ability to control multiple areas of the paired smartphone, then the Bip is not for you. That means that one of the features that I have enjoyed in other smartwatches – controlling the music player on the smartphone in my pocket – isn’t part of the built-in software.

This year I’ve had to rely on certain functions of the smartphone toolbox more than others. The need for leisure activities (such as media control) have lessened, while monitoring my sleep, exercise levels, and tracking other movement-based activities has increased. The Bip fits in wonderfully with my new requirements; it doesn’t have to be charged up every night (so sleep ca be tracked), I don’t have to consciously take it on or off so it’s always there for exercise, and the regular alarms to take my medication are always at my wrist.

The Bip comes with three main sensors – the obvious motion sensor to track step counts and movement during exercise; a heart rate sensor; and a GPS to track your location through the day (or switched on for an exercise session) if you wish. Of course measuring full body activities from a wrist can never be completely accurate, there will be some extrapolation involved – especially in terms of step counting. My view is not to trust the number as gospel, but to trust the trend that I can see developing over time.

I have a similar thinking regarding the heart rate monitor. When i head into the gym I’m going to tighten the strap around my wrist for a more accurate reading, but in everyday use I open the wrist strap out a notch. It’s still firmly in place but the heart rate can be a little more variable. I like that you can keep track of your heart rate through the day – I’ve almost set up a confidence ‘’record every thirty minutes’ but of course when you start an exercise session (something that needs done manually) that sample rate increases.

Again it’s all about compromise. If you want a perfect instrument you are going to pay a lot more – and for those looking for an accurate fitness tracker there are more precise (and more expensive) options. For those like me who need tracking but with a little bit more margin for error, then I’m happy with that compromise.

Ewan Spence

Amazfit Bip Smartwatch (Ewan Spence)

The same can be said of the Amazfit Bip itself. The screen is color and always on,runs at 176×176 pixels, and is a 1.28 inch LCD display. The backlight stays off almost all of the time, but can be set to switch on if you raise the watch. Neither does the touchscreen stay active – in general you need to tap the crown button to activate the backlight on the screen and to have the Bip look for touch input. That touch input is more about swipes left and right, using the crown as a back button, and the occasional (Yes/Cancel) dialog popping up. Again a higher resolution screen or always on user interface has been put aside to focus on battery endurance.

And once you realise that your watch needs a tap before you can use the extra features, it’s something that becomes habit. Thanks to the reflective LCD screen, even without the backlight coming on you can make out the time in anything except the darkest of conditions.

I also appreciate that the watch works with standard 20mm straps, and the spring-loaded bar connectors seen across the industry. Although I’ve no issues with the enclosed silicone strap, the ability to switch it out for an alternative is welcome.

Ewan Spence

Amazfit Bip Smartwatch (Ewan Spence)

Let’s be honest here, if you’re going to try to use the Amazfit Bip with an iOS device you are going to have a poor experience. You can record your activity and have it uploaded to your iPhone or iPad, but so much of the app ecosystem is locked down by Apple by design that the whole package is very awkward.

This is much improved when you look at the Bip with an Android device. The companion app is Xiaomi’s MiFit – which shouldn’t come as a surprise given Amazfit is a subsidiary of Xiaomi. The UI will be familiar to those who have worked with Xiaomi’s MIUI variant of Android. That means a large colourful key graphic at the top of the screen, and boxed out numbers in the bottom half. It takes a bit of getting used to, but once you get the principle of how the UI layout works, it’s surprisingly efficient – but there’s no concession to Apple’s iOS UI or Google’s Material Design.

Your data also syncs to the cloud through an Xiaomi account, so it’s easy enough to move between two Amazfit devices, or two smartphones, or even move over from Android to iOS and back again. It also syncs data to Google Fit and Apple Health, so if you want to test the watch and not carry two trackers, you’ll not lose any tracking data.

Ewan Spence

Amazfit Bip Smartwatch (Ewan Spence)

One thing I appreciate is the granular control you have over every aspect. The time between recording your heart rate is one example. Another is the ability to switch on or off any smartphone application’s ability to send a notification to your watch. You can strip back the constant low of alerts to just those vital to you. Of course there’s no interaction with the notifications as you have with Wear OS or WatchOS, but that once more reflects the philosophy of the Bip – it is there to record information and to let you know when something is happening on your phone… and that’s it.

This is a subordinate companion to your smartphone. That clearly defined approach makes for a product that knows exactly what it wants to deliver, and it delivers everything it promises. Can it rival the more expensive smartwatches on the market? That depends what you are looking for. Personally the Amazfit is very close to my ‘ideal smartwatch deliverables’ that it has won me over, but your decision will be different.

What I can say is that the Amazfit delivers what it promises – and is clear about what it does not deliver. If you need a long-lived smartwatch, with solid tracking, and simple notifications from your smartphone, I’d definitely recommend you have the Bip on your shortlist.

Let’s put it another way. There are fashionable smartwatches, there are stylish smartwatches, there are sportscar-esque smartwatches. The Amazfit Bip is the indestructible Casio F-91W of smartwatches.

Disclaimer: Huami provided an Amazfit Bip for review purposes

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China's Huawei goes on offensive as exclusion from Australia 5G deal looms

SYDNEY (Reuters) – Chinese telecommunications company Huawei Technologies Co Ltd [HWT.UL] has gone on the offensive against Australian claims it poses a security risk, issuing an open letter to the government saying that view was “ill-informed.”

The Huawei logo is seen during the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, Spain, February 26, 2018. REUTERS/Yves Herman

There has been much speculation about Huawei in recent weeks as Australia prepares to announce a tender for its massive 5G mobile telecommunications rollout, with local media reporting the country’s spy agencies have advised against including the company.

Australia, like the United States, worries Huawei is de facto controlled by China, raising fears that sensitive infrastructure will fall into the hands of Beijing.

“Recent public commentary around China has referenced Huawei and its role in Australia and prompted some observations around security concerns,” Huawei’s chairman and two board directors wrote in a letter to government that the company released to the media on Monday. “Many of these comments are ill-informed and not based on facts.”

The public letter from Huawei executives, which was accompanied by a fact sheet, comes as Australia’s relationship with top trading partner China faces a testing two weeks. Canberra is preparing to pass laws designed to limit Beijing’s influence in domestic affairs amid pressure on some of its fastest growing exports, a stance that has led to deteriorating relations between the two countries.

Huawei has repeatedly denied the allegations of Beijing control, and in the letter, dated Friday, again insisted it is an independent company.

“In each of the 170 countries where we operate, we abide by the national laws and guidelines,” Chairman John Lord and board directors John Brumby and Lance Hockridge wrote in the letter. “To do otherwise would end our business overnight.”

The executives noted the company’s 5G investments in Britain, Canada and New Zealand where it said the respective governments had taken up its offer to evaluate the company’s technology to make sure it abided by cybersecurity protocols.

They said the company has offered to build an evaluation and testing center as part of its Australia 5G proposal “to ensure independent verification of our equipment right here in Australia.”

Huawei was banned in 2012 from supplying Australia’s massive National Broadband Network, and in May, Australia committed millions of dollars to ensure Huawei did not build an internet cable between Australia and the Solomon Islands.

Australia has not publicly explained its objection, but a source familiar with the Solomon Islands deal said Canberra was concerned that China could jeopardize its national security by having access to Australian telecommunications infrastructure.

Reporting By Jane Wardell; Editing by Cynthia Osterman

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