I like to think of myself as the #1 cheerleader for independent retailers, but I must admit that I get a bit discouraged every time I read of another store closing due to competition from Amazon. The latest casualty here in Madison, WI is Sacred Feather, a haberdashery (or hat shop, to the uninitiated) located in a charming old home on State Street.  

There is no doubt that Amazon is aggressively going after all aspects of the retail market.  Retail Leader Daily just reported that 92% of America’s online shoppers say they have shopped at Amazon at least once.  And Amazon is now offering a discount to their 100 million Prime members in many Whole Foods stores, following their takeover of that chain a year ago.

But we don’t have to accept a world dominated by billionaire Jeff Bezos’s huge online corporation.  Many independent retailers fought Walmart back in the day, and hopefully many of us will also prevail in the era of Amazon.

Statistics show that even online customers enjoy a well-curated selection of merchandise artfully presented in a store that offers great customer service. (As the Kissmetrics blog says, “This is a sandbox that Amazon can’t play in. But you can.”) Throw in some innovative events that create buzz and social opportunities, and you’ve created a shop that stands a chance against Amazon.

The bigger challenge we face is getting customers to walk away from their screens and into our stores.  Part of that is getting the message out that shopping on Amazon, or at least shopping exclusively on Amazon, is bad for our culture and our communities.  The buy local movement is working on spreading the word, but we have to also do our part.  When a friend brags about a great buy they got on Amazon, do you speak up?  When a non-profit posts that they will receive a donation through AmazonSmile when their supporters make a purchase, do you point out that local stores do much more to support local causes? 

This struggle has gotten personal for me recently, because I am trying to discourage my fellow retailers from ordering their copy of the new edition of Specialty Shop Retailing: How You Can Succeed in Today’s Market from Amazon. I really think the book is a great resource, with 450 pages of information for today’s shopkeepers (including more ideas for competing with Amazon) for only $19.95.  But I’m frustrated that sales have been slow since the book’s debut a few months ago, and I think that my don’t-buy-it-from-Amazon campaign is partially to blame.  The fact is, today’s independent bookstores only make up 6-8% of the print book market.  Are you willing to take a stand against Amazon? It would be great if you would order your copy through your local bookstore, IndieBound, Powell’s City of Books or even my website. Amazon doesn’t need your Andrew Jackson, but your fellow independent business certainly does.

Happy Retailing,

Carol “Orange” Schroeder

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