Can you compete with Amazon? Nope. No way, no how. But the good news is, Amazon can't compete with you either. And, especially as we head into the holiday season, that last sentence should not only give you some hope, it should also give you a sense of confidence that the big bad, bookselling bogeyman from the Pacific Northwest is maybe just so much hot air.
If anyone should be scared, it's Amazon.
Oh sure, I can hear you now: "What you been smoking there, Strauss?" But before you write me and my crackpot theory off, consider this:
What if I'm right?
Let's begin with my first proposition, that you can't compete with Amazon. There is nary a small business owner in the land who would disagree with that one. Picking the low-hanging fruit here. What Amazon.com does just about better than anyone -- heck, let's be frank -- definitely better than anyone, is offer a gazillion things for miniscule prices.
By undercutting the competition, Amazon drove Barnes and Noble out of business yesterday, is doing the same to Sears today, and just may do it again to grocery stores tomorrow. There is simply no way that you will ever be able to offer the inventory that Jeff Bezos has, or compete against his low, low prices.
But here's the rub: why in the heck would you ever want to?
You didn't start a small business to become a giant behemoth, and I bet it is also safe to say that you don't really want to be known as the cheapest store in town, as the "low cost leader." Most entrepreneurs have figured out that competing on price is a risky one-way ticket to Low Marginville; a town where it's really tough to make a buck and you better sell a lot -- again, and again, and again -- if you ever hope to live in the nice part of town.
So, there is part one of my premise, and it's not so half-baked: You can't compete with Amazon, but nor should you want to.
Now let's get to the fun part: Amazon can't compete with you either. What is Amazon really, other than a humungous website with cheap prices for lots of things you will never buy? Whoop-de-freakin-do, they offer "free" two-day delivery. Well, guess what? People can go into your store or shop, be greeted with a smile, and have free immediate delivery. They can take their purchase home with them as soon as they leave.
Can Amazon create a buying experience where customers are warmly greeted by name by a live human being? No. Can Amazon look customers in the eye, crack a joke, and create rapport? Nope. Can Amazon look at what a customer is purchasing and suggest that something else might better suit their needs, or that there is something in the back that would go perfect with that purchase? Hmm, let's think . . . no; no automaton website can do that, no matter how much AI it has at its disposal.
Amazon can never make a customer feel all warm and fuzzy after a purchase like you can.
Indeed, what small business can do, and does best, is precisely the thing Amazon cannot do, namely, give customers a positive, warm, real, physical experience. People buy from places for all sorts of reasons, price indeed being one of them, but that's the thing - it is only one of many considerations. Chalk that one up for Amazon. You can win all the others.
This holiday season, let' see Amazon open the doors to a warm, snuggly store serving hot chocolate and wafting holiday music. Oh, wait, it can't?
That's why my last proposition makes the most sense: Amazon should be afraid of you.