If an organizational goal is to compete with Amazon at e-commerce you’re likely setting your company up for failure, it also underlines a business strategy that lacks an understanding in the power of their brand and market niche. However, this should not discourage any company or brand from striving to improve on their e-commerce metrics, operational or otherwise. In the past month we’ve seen Amazon force brand giant Nike to become part of their platform, after years of resistance. This is because Amazon is only as successful as the power, and quality, of the brands in which it transacts.
Nike, along with many other strong brands, have concerns about this partnership: counterfeit products, Amazon cannibalizing customers from the Nike web storefront platform, and eventually Amazon private label production of Nike style footwear. These are all valid concerns, and when a longstanding leader like Nike is reluctant, enterprise and SMB’s should all take notice. Amazon focuses on three main pillars of service: price- right price, not always the lowest; selection- all the selection; and convenience- best way for the customer to get to the products; however, they cannot control a brand’s connection to the customer and will never have the ability to build strong relationships across such a large and diverse network.
- Take Advantage of a Diverse Logistics Network
Amazon does logistics right; there’s no denying that the company has become a leader in supply chain optimization and operational efficiency. One reason Amazon is so successful is that they have mastered a flexible and wide logistics network; that the company primarily runs with its own employees. They also have numerous vendors who service them through Drop Ship programs therefore expanding their outreach. Various platforms exist that connect organizations that need warehousing space that have organizations with extra space in over 45 markets across North America. Using these types of shared space networks will empower businesses to proactively plan for peak times, better understand their marketplace and place the right assortment of product closer to the end consumer. By placing the product closer to the customer companies can offer free shipping without detrimental hits to their bottom line; but more importantly they can offer fast delivery and further delight the customer.
- Develop Deep, Collaborative Relationships with Suppliers
In total Amazon sells over 480 million products just in the USA, this is an 8% growth from December 2016; the company is also shipping a large portion of their assortment to 180 countries around the world. Their Achilles heel is forecasting! Brands know their product, assortment and suppliers better than Amazon. This creates increased risk in the Amazon supply chain which is why there is an increased effort to start sourcing most of their fast moving ASIN (Amazon Standard Identification Number) directly from vendor factories. Their ultimate desire, as we can see in the apparel industry, is to move their supply chain directly to the OEM (Original Equipment Manufacturer).
Build trust with suppliers, create collaborative forecasting program and share in raw materials risk. Provide manufacturers and factories with visibility into your sales and operations planning data and give them a stake in the game.
- Brand and Assortment
New product launches are the best opportunity for brands to connect or reconnect to customers, educate and listen to their feedback. With a vast and global supply chain Amazon cannot understand all nuances of their vendor’s supply planning and network risk. As such, the company is searching to increase the number of drop ship partners across the country. Unlike most retailers, Amazon does not accept a fee for this program, however they pitch the service as the brand’s opportunity to place the product in the customer’s hands faster as it does not have to circulate through the Amazon network.
For some legacy products this makes sense, but for newly released products brands should be very weary of placing these into the Amazon supply chain. The optimal approach for new products is to limit and control the supply chain as much as possible, and back this up with enough marketing dollars that the needed visibility exists and sales take off without Amazon.
Shipping does not have to be free, however it does have to be hassle free on the outbound as well as reverse logistics. Analyzing Amazon’s SEC filings for 2016, the company calculated a net landed cost for products at their customer’s doors of $7.2B.
According to Amazon’s CFO, Brian Olsavsky, the total spent on shipping increased by 30% YoY driven by the fact that more than 50 milling items on their catalog are now eligible for free two day shipping, which has also increased over 70% from the previous year. As a percentage of the total company revenue the shipping costs were reported at 53.3% a the end of 2016; this would cripple most other businesses.
Provide customers with realistic expectations, partner with the best last mile delivery providers and keep a pulse on the average rate in the market. Exceed expectations and impress the customer by anticipating post-delivery needs, do not put the business at risk to compete with Amazon’s free shipping policy.
The best thing about not being Amazon is that your customer service team can excel in understanding your brand and product and speak to the customer from experience. Brands can listen, receive feedback, and act on their customer’s opinions. Amazon invests in improved customer service, but without the brand and product knowledge their service is lacking expertise and revolves around product delivery and directing the customer back to the original manufacturer.
Excellent customer service, coupled with strategic management of your supply chain will set you up for a successful holiday season and a strong brand in the future. Amazon will continue to grow. Being small, nimble, innovative and true to the customer will help true brands survive and strive.