David Vs. Goliath: Three Ways Small Businesses Can Compete With Amazon

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POST WRITTEN BY John M. O’Connor

John M. O’Connor is a multi-year career coach, outplacement and career services leader based in North Carolina.

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It may not be business popular to lead with a biblical story, but to beat Amazon, it will take near-biblical proportions and certainly monumental courage or naivety.

In the Bible (1 Samuel 17:48-50), David takes on the great giant Goliath, which is illustrated by this moment:

As the Philistine moved closer to attack him, David ran quickly toward the battle line to meet him. Reaching into his bag and taking out a stone, he slung it and struck the Philistine on the forehead. The stone sank into his forehead, and he fell facedown on the ground. 

So David triumphed over the Philistine with a sling and a stone; without a sword in his hand he struck down the Philistine and killed him.

Only the most powerful, authentic and purposeful intentions and interpersonal relationships will take down this giant. It will also take a lot of unassuming, focused underdogs who are willing to knit together a network of trust.

Here’s how it could be done, one person at a time, perhaps like David facing Goliath:

Establish A Unified ‘Why’

When you think of David, you think of someone who is unified by righteousness. In a battle against Amazon, you need purity of purpose like no other.

It seems like every week, a new business is threatened by Amazon. Look no further than your own hometown or almost any retailer. Just this morning, as I write these words, I came across this headline: “Ulta Beauty, Sally Beauty Shares Drop After Amazon Unveils Beauty Stores For Professionals.”

Industry after industry, time after time, business after business has suffered sudden and rather permanent drops in their opportunity to thrive and survive as Amazon undercuts them on price and delivery almost immediately. Once your revenue drops, you either beat them or join them, the latter being the more likely way to temporarily survive. If your why is survival, you may find a way to be unified in your fight.

Be The Better Salesperson

If you are in the business of selling commodities, you may be the most vulnerable to Amazon taking over and destroying your livelihood. Amazon can afford to lose money on product and shipping — and for many years. How long can your business tolerate losing money to the giant in the room? You can’t, and that’s what they are counting on.

In my conversations with retailers, they admit to often buying from Amazon even though Amazon is beating up their business. “I guess I am part of the problem,” one person said to me.

The only real chance you have to win in both the product and services game versus Amazon is to beat them on customer service and follow-up. In other words, you must be extraordinary in both areas, especially in human-to-human contact. I just bought an electric weed trimmer, and the only reason I didn’t order it from Amazon after visiting a locally owned hardware store was the salesperson treated me like gold, trained me on the product and offered to service it directly if it ever broke.

Start A Movement

Jeff Bezos was quoted as saying this in 2018: “If we start to focus on ourselves, instead of focusing on our customers, that will be the beginning of the end … We have to try and delay that day for as long as possible.” Bezos went on to say that the biggest of companies often have about a 30-year span at the top of their game. This was in relation to the downfall of the once powerful giant Sears — from Goliath to obscurity and bankruptcy.

If every small business focused on good service and strong relationships with customers, one by one, they would have a chance at beating Goliath. If, however, they attempt to compete with the giant on “his” terms and attempt a race to the bottom, they risk their business’s life. Relentlessly focus on your customers, and find a way to personalize your services. Even if Amazon doesn’t suffer the blow of a rock to its proverbial head, you’ll still make a cut. Find or create a grassroots movement to do business with other small businesses to help you make the cut. It could lead to market dominance.

The bottom line? Only powerful relationships built by trust can knock over this giant.

Today, so many businesses that compete with Amazon do business with it in many other areas. To ask anyone to change their online buying habits may be an impossible giant to fight, but it will take a true movement to get off the Amazon ordering platform and focus on buying local. Being a buyer of Amazon and part of the problem will need to stop.

The only chance many of us have as merchants of products or services is to be the unrelenting caretaker of our most precious weapons, our rocks — our relationships with our customers or clients.Forbes Coaches Council is an invitation-only community for leading business and career coaches. Do I qualify?

John M. O'Connor
John M. O’Connor Forbes Councils Member

John M. O’Connor is a multi-year career coach, outplacement and career services leader based in North Carolina.

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