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Jack of all trades? How dealers can thrive in the age of Amazon

Amazon has been surfing the swell of success since they started making real traction in the ecommerce market in the early 2010s. Since then it’s been an upward turn for what’s now the most influential e-tailer on the planet. This omnipotent behemoth has almost every area of the playing field covered, from Amazon Business to Amazon Prime, Amazon Warehouse to Amazon Fresh and even Amazon Handmade – a branch to accommodate a growing trend for artisan crafts. And unlike many businesses and institutions which saw the pandemic cripple their livelihoods, COVID has proved just another rung on Amazon’s ladder to success.

It may seem like Amazon has it all, but no business is bulletproof. Where there are strengths, there are weaknesses. And where there are weaknesses, there are opportunities for the well-versed, well-equipped and innovative independent dealers in this market. During our recent Dealer End of Year Event 2020, we hosted an interactive virtual round-table session with dealers from all around the UK, where they analysed Amazon’s business model, compared it to their own businesses and brainstormed how they can challenge Amazon without playing their game. In this article, we summarise the outcome of that session and present ideas on how dealers can compete against this seemingly unstoppable force.

Personalised customer experience which cultivates longevity

Ask anyone to list the qualities which draw them to Amazon, and ease of use will likely be near the top. It’s never been simpler to search for virtually any product you need, and get it delivered to wherever you’re working with the click of a button. But Amazon’s ability to control customer experience – what they see and how they see it – through multiple resellers is pretty limited. This leaves a significant opening for dealers to benefit, provided they have the tools to do so. By using ecommerce technology which enables a smartly segmented, expertly targeted and well-positioned approach to increase sales, dealers can tailor their customer journey and better align themselves to meet customer needs. Partner this with strong brand messaging and varied product range, dynamic pricing and advanced search and navigation functionality, and dealers are better able to cultivate customer relationships, talk to their customers and encourage the repeat business so sought after in our industry.

Advanced sales tools designed for our market

With the advancements we see in modern technology each year, the old saying a bad workman blames his tools is fast becoming outdated. Nowadays, it’d be more accurate to suggest that a bad workman doesn’t use the tools available to him, and this is highly applicable to our industry. Yes, sales will always require a certain level of energy and charisma, but it’s becoming increasingly vital for dealers to use the right tools and customer relationship functionalities to actualise their business growth and success – particularly post-COVID. Interestingly, what Amazon resellers enjoy in presence, they lack in back-end tech, relying on generalised algorithms which better fit a reactive – not proactive – sales strategy. Sellers on Amazon business are not technologically supported to proactively hunt for business, but instead must rely on a once-size-fits-all platform to farm what’s already there.

If dealers use a flexible system, designed specifically for our industry, with an array of tools to help prioritise and pinpoint where they can make more sales, score bigger orders and build lucrative customer relationships, they’re winning in an area which Amazon has seemingly neglected. Throughout the COVID crisis, Office Power dealer partners have actively taken advantage of the recent enhancements to their platform, particularly CRM functionality. Now dealers can see where their customers are working, what their job role is and better understand what they need to work well in this flexible working climate. Not only does this enable dealers to seek out the clients with the best potential value, but also offer customers what they need, when they need it.
An advanced Customer Relationship Management System is just one of a number of tools which successful dealers should be utilising in this ongoing fight to remain relevant – and profitable – in an Amazon-dominated space. Cost centre functionality, multiple addresses, direct deliveries, easy invoicing, a centralised QMS and integrated supplier technology are all key for competing in this fragmented landscape. If dealer businesses aren’t underpinned by technology that is at least as good – if not better – than Amazon’s, then it will only become more difficult for them to succeed in this space.

Local presence and personal touch

Amazon thrives on the demand for efficiency which instant gratification culture creates, and though they can provide a range of products with fast and cheap delivery, customer support is very limited when things go wrong. Connecting with customers, understanding their needs, offering friendly service and working to get their problems resolved quickly – and helping them to avoid them in the first place – are understated qualities almost every dealer possesses. In a climate where it’s taken a worldwide pandemic to remind us of the value of buying local, now is the perfect time for dealers to combine the technology that can easily compete with Amazon in terms of functionality, with the personal and local relationships they have with their customers. This will give dealers an invaluable competitive advantage.

Strong and long-standing trust in suppliers

It’s no secret that while COVID has induced a spike in demand for certain products, the credibility of many of these has wavered. A real threat that independent dealers pose to Amazon is their ability to offer quality assured products from suppliers they’ve had strong relationships with for years. Amazon may have the range, but it’s very often difficult for customers to know exactly where and who their products have come from. At times like these, having safe and accredited products can literally spell the difference between life and death, particularly in the health and care sectors.
A more chronic but soon equally debilitating issue we face is the global climate crisis, and demand for eco-friendly, sustainably sourced products from an increasingly environmentally conscious crowd is evident. Dealers’ ability to offer fully certified, green products and smarter packaging, which is already something many see as a necessity, will only grow more important in the years to come. With such a large number of resellers on their platform, each with their own set of suppliers, it’s likely that Amazon will have a harder time vetting the authenticity, certification and carbon footprint of what they’re selling.

Specialist industry knowledge and B2B sales expertise

Many dealers see years spent in the industry as a badge of honour, and they’re right to. With each year comes experience, and with experience comes knowledge. This detailed knowledge of products, suppliers, industry-specific items and customer needs is power when it comes to providing for customers. It’s also something we feel is widely underestimated within the B2B office supplies space. Too often on Amazon, you’ll find only a thin description of your product and its uses, and then there’s also an array of problems surrounding false reviews. Amazon’s depth of product knowledge, experience of the industry and ability to provide this to the customer doesn’t come close to rival that of an independent office supplies dealer. Even if a reseller does have knowledge of business products and services, the infrastructure available for them to access customers and provide them with this information is weak. Amazon may be the jack of all trades, but it’s the master of none.

Their weaknesses are our opportunities, our strengths are their threat

During the virtual roundtable session, one of the key things that stood out for us what many dealers deemed to be a major threat to Amazon: ‘Me’. This may have been said semi-jokingly, but to us it summed things up perfectly. Independent dealers, with their experience, knowledge, longstanding relationships and skills do, in fact, pose a threat to Amazon, and a serious one at that. But we’ve also seen how this threat is only fully actualised when dealers have the tools and technology to support their growth. By establishing the perfect blend of technology, advanced ecommerce capabilities and friendly, knowledge-based service, dealers can begin to move out of the shadow which Amazon has cast over our industry for a long time. The opportunity is there if dealers choose to take it.

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