Retail startups can gain traction by offering the one thing that Amazon can’t: an emotional connection that differentiates them and resonates with their core customer base.

Laura Behrens Wu, co-founder and CEO, Shippo

Laura Behrens Wu, co-founder and CEO, Shippo

It’s no secret that Amazon’s domination of the retail industry isn’t slowing down anytime soon. Slice Intelligence estimates that Amazon accounted for the majority (53%) of the growth in US e-commerce sales for 2016. The retail giant accounted for 44% of U.S. e-commerce sales in 2017, according to One Click Retail. Doesn’t exactly sound like a market ripe for entrepreneurs, does it?

But that’s only part of the story, as it is now easier than ever to start an e-commerce brand. Not to say the space doesn’t have challenges, but the tools available to get an e-commerce store off the ground are more accessible than ever, allowing businesses to focus on the customer relationship, whether through social media or brand building. There’s plenty of evidence that Amazon and small brands can co-exist. Specifically, retail startups can gain traction by offering the one thing that Amazon can’t: an emotional connection that differentiates them and resonates with their core customer base.

When you think of Amazon, it’s essentially a search engine. If you don’t know what you want, you won’t likely find yourself browsing through the items. Speed and convenience for when you know exactly what you want are great—it’s why we subscribe to Prime initially, and it’s why we keep renewing our subscriptions. But what those attributes aren’t is interesting. After all, you’re not thinking about Amazon in your spare time or following them on Instagram, are you? You might, however, be following Allbirds, or Glossier, or Warby Parker.

When a customer buys a pair of Outdoor Voices leggings, chances are they’re Instagramming them with the Outdoor Voices hashtag.

With these consumer brands, success has hinged on the brand’s ability to connect with their customers emotionally. By offering a full experience that engages and delights customers at every touchpoint, a new crop of companies is taking off by creating brands that people want to follow and support for reasons beyond convenience and searchability.

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Athleisure company Outdoor Voices is a great example of an e-commerce brand that’s been incredibly successful. Combining a smart family of products with a memorable brand voice that speaks directly to active millennials, the company has built a cult following that’s driven strong growth through word of mouth and social media buzz. When a customer buys a pair of Outdoor Voices leggings, chances are they’re Instagramming them with the Outdoor Voices hashtag.

There are so many resources available for brands who want to pick up their game in this department. One way is to underscore the importance of your communications during the timeframe between purchase and delivery—a lot of retailers overlook it, figuring that once goods have been shipped, their job is done. But this is a great time to engage with customers and get them excited about something coming in the mail.

And retailers can make sure that what arrives is exciting. Lumi, for instance, makes packaging for e-commerce brands. The company provides custom boxes, envelope mailers, rubber stamps and tape that offer fun and seasonal looks that are delightful to buyers when they receive their packages. Buyers get to experience beautiful “unboxing” experiences shared on Instagram and other social channels because the packaging was carefully designed and selected with storytelling in mind.

In the end, the best way for young brands to stand out is to truly own the customer experience. From the products you’re offering to the story you’re telling, the messaging you’re using, and the lifestyle your products tap into—show that you’re thinking about your customers every step of the way. It’s becoming increasingly easy to start a store online. After you’ve established your identity as a brand and the story you’re telling, the channels that are readily available to share your story—and connect with your customers—are easier than ever to use.

Shippo is a shipping platform for marketplaces, warehouses, and e-commerce businesses.

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