Become Better than

I can hear the laughter now. “Nobody’s going to beat Amazon, they’re too big.” Yes, Amazon is huge and getting bigger by the second, much bigger. Jeff Bezos defied the odds, lost money for years, and now is one of the richest people… ever. Genius? Perhaps. Innovator? Without question. Role model? That’s up to you. Realist? Absolutely. Why else would he warn his people that Amazon will, perhaps must, ultimately fail? Something will one day take Amazon’s place.

At its heart, Amazon is simply a marketing machine. A vast, highly-efficient marketing machine, but not that different from any other business. It markets to achieve awareness. It advertises to let people know what’s on sale. There’s a front door, it just looks like a computer screen. It keeps a customer list, with a detailed likes/dislikes profile. It has an inventory of products with a method for customers to purchase them. It puts the products into the hands of the customers, most often within a few hours to a few days, depending on where they live.

Let’s look at some of the areas where Amazon excels and has created/developed/exploited to see how these can be duplicated/improved/innovated in your business, no matter what the size.


  • Maintains a large, ever-replenishing inventory with new items being added all the time
    • Starting with a few thousand books, to just about everything in the world
  • Uses computer technology to create a list of similar products to be marketed later
    • Algorithms drive the process after you complete your first order
  • Constantly upsells, using suggestions based on other customer’s purchase history
    • ‘Other shoppers ordered these items together’ or ‘Goes well with’
  • Adds credibility and security within the mind of the consumer with product reviews from other purchasers
    • If almost everyone gave this product 5 stars, it must be good
  • Promotes daily or hourly ‘deals’ to spark interest and generate traffic
    • Cyber Monday, Top 100 Toy Deals, Deal of the Day. The list is never ending
  • Makes returns easy, while assuming the customer is always right
    • Simply fill out the page, download the RMA, and return it in the same box
  • Allows third parties to use their marketing system, for which they pay a variety of fees
    • Amazon FBA, opens the world to every small retailer
  • Makes gift giving fast and easy with gift wrap and delivery directly to the recipient
    • Another fee, but shopping for birthday presents in your pajamas, at midnight, inside where it’s warm, while a snowstorm rages, has a certain appeal
  • Offers fast, free shipping. Pay for Prime and get 2-day shipping on most orders for the next year
    • Why would you now shop anywhere that charges for shipping?

For all its successes, Amazon has a few areas where they fall down on the job, at least as far as customer service goes.

  • No one picks up the phone (if you can even find a number) when you have an issue
    • The personal touch is missing in a dramatic way
  • Because of all the various fees, Amazon pricing is not always a true bargain
    • Especially from their third-party vendors
    • If you know where to look, ordering the same product directly from the manufacturing country can often save 60-80%. Same ease of ordering. It just takes longer.
  • Despite an extensive effort to weed out inaccuracies and cheaters, the reviews are not always reliable
    • Friends, paid reviewers, and manufacturers can influence product ratings

So how can you become ‘Better than Amazon’? The first step is to mimic what they do well.

Become convenient. If that means adding more products, or offering local delivery, or free shipping. Do it. It will eat into your margin a bit, but you are competing with a worldwide giant. Go above and beyond to create a life-long customer who prefers dealing with real people.

Keep track of your customers and what they like. When something new comes in that fits their preferences, let them know.

Make returns easy. Wrong size, wrong color, who cares? Make the customer happy, without hassles. They will remember a positive return encounter more than a positive sales encounter.

Promote Deals, Specials, and Sale Events. Everyone loves to save money. Give them that opportunity.

Offer to gift wrap the item. Make it easy and convenient for your customer to pay a little extra to not have to dig out the wrapping paper and do it themselves.

Put into place services no one else offers. You may even be able to convince your competitors to use your service. For a fee, of course.

The second step is to do well, the things Amazon doesn’t or won’t do at all.

Go above and beyond with the personal touch. Customers prefer to buy from people they know, like, and trust. Make sure you are building on these attributes in every interaction with your customer.

Be in the store during your regular hours. Answer the phone as if a friend is on the other end. Open early, stay a little late, if the customer needs something at the last minute or in a hurry. Be convenient.

Offer quality products at fair prices. Find new suppliers, if necessary. Make sure every product gets a 5-star review, even if they never write it down.

Always strive to provide value. Customers willingly pay a premium if the value of the offer exceeds the value of what you’re asking them to pay.

Becoming better than Amazon isn’t really all that hard. Simply exceed your customers every expectation, every day. If you ask, they might even tell you exactly how to do it.

Rick Artis is a serial entrepreneur and now serves as the Membership Coordinator at The Pagosa Springs Area Chamber of Commerce.