Tuesday, February 25, 2020

Drawing in the click-happy customer


Many people in small business have come to loathe and fear Amazon - and often with good reason. Amazon is everywhere; they offer stuff at good prices; they offer free shipping; it’s so easy to place an order! Why would anyone want to start an e-store when they’re up against Amazon?

The REALITY is that the small business with its modest little e-store isn’t head-to-head against Amazon at all - they only think that they are. Actually your small business focused on good old-fashioned personal service is at a great advantage over impersonal Web-based behemoths like Amazon, Wayfair, and others.  If anything they should be afraid of you!

Maple Leaf Ropes 3/8" anchor line available on Amazon
Can I use this for my 27-footer?  Amazon DOES NOT have the answer.

In your case, you're smarter than Amazon. You know about the products you sell (JC’s first rule of selling: know your product). You can answer pointed questions about application, installation, product quality and longevity, and other details to which the customer really wants real-world answers.

Now look at the average parts listing on Amazon.

  • See the detailed information about the product? - right; you don’t; because it’s not there.

  • See the contact information by which you can ask the seller your questions? - right; again, you don’t, because it’s not there.

  • See the product reviews by actual buyers and users at the bottom? - this is the worst bit of all.  These are no substitute for a knowledgeable expert - they’re only people who bought the product on that site.  Much of the time they're just wrong - or else they're citing problems or complaints which could easily have been prevented if they’d been able to talk to an expert before they clicked Add To Cart and then Check Out.

My favorite (or least favorite) are the cases of people who request a return because they got click-happy and bought the water-pump kit for a Mercruiser Alpha Gen-1 sterndrive instead of the correct one for the Gen-2 drive they actually have (about a $60 difference).  They searched on ‘Mercruiser Alpha water pump kit’, selected on price, and clicked without reading any further. The listing on Amazon (or on that up-and-coming online-only marine retailer that I’d love to name, but won’t) didn’t specify applications in their description (very likely because they didn’t even know).  So both customer and seller have to do double work; and neither of them learns much from the experience after all.

But you are a real person doing real work in a real building with a real phone.  Putting your contact info in the listing and inviting people to actually phone and ask before buying is a great way to make customers. I know for a fact that this works - I’ve fielded phone calls from all over the US because the online-auction listing made them feel welcome to call. I provide specific information about the product, including how they can tell if it's what they actually need, how to tell this is a quality part, and how to install it and maintain it, and I guide them through the online sale process.  And they ring off expounding in gratitude that ‘a real person answered the phone’.

My contention is that these people are far more numerous than those Web-only retailers want to believe; and I’m betting these customers will be relieved and grateful even to pay a few percentage points more for the part or for its shipping just for the peace of mind of knowing they’ve got the right part coming - and they've helped out a hard-working seller who’s just trying to do the right thing by helping them.


One of my specialties is setting up a decent, easy-to-use e-commerce presence that can sort of grow with you - the more you want to use it, the more you can benefit from it.  Consider it a way to bring old-fashioned person-to-person service into the 21st-century online world. Just ask me (note my contact info is in my site too!); and we’ll discuss how you can get started, or go further, in a vital channel of business in which you probably don’t want to be losing out to others.

- JC2

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