What the Amazon Effect Means for Your Small Business

Waitress Standing on Cafe Doors

When Josh Silverman took over Etsy (an e-commerce website focused on handmade and vintage items), he faced immense pressure to revive the company financially.

He didn’t disappoint. While shedding jobs and increasing holiday promotions, Etsy swung from a $29.9 million loss (in 2016) to an $81.8 million net income in 2017.

Managing this feat in the face of Amazon’s competition was impressive. Amazon notched $51 billion in net sales in the first quarter of 2018, recently confirming it has exceeded 100 million Prime members globally. In contrast, Etsy has 1.9 active sellers and 33.4 million active buyers.

Amazon is everywhere: delivering groceries, storing music, and putting items at your doorstep in two days or less. Amazon has been so present that it has become a verb: as in, “I Amazoned it.” While Amazon brings smiles to many, it brings tremors to some small businesses. Many are outraged at the demise of mom-and-pop shops, and even large-scale retailers have taken hits.

What It Means For Small Business

The Amazon effect is a catchphrase used to describe how Amazon has influenced our interactions with other businesses.

Because so many people are Amazon subscribers, this platform has raised expectations for shopping experiences. As writer Corey Pemberton notes,

“Because the vast majority of us use Amazon regularly, we’re well aware of a new kind of customer experience. We used to drive to the shopping mall, painstakingly search for items, and wait in long lines with little complaint. But now that we’ve experienced the joy of picking out things in our pajamas and clicking to have them shipped straight to us, the alternative seems substantially less desirable.”

Subsequently, expectations of all businesses have increased.

How Your Business Can Adapt

Here are four ways small businesses can adapt in the wake of Amazon’s influence.

1. Work to develop distinct, personalized products.

Part of what makes your business irreplaceable is the individual products only you can produce.

While resellers can undercut some sales, a small business with a unique, quality product can’t easily be replicated.

2. Partner with e-commerce platforms.

A recent Insureon insurance company poll of 2,400 business owners showed 68 percent of businesses surveyed said that online retailers had a positive impact on their business:

“[Online retailers] have forced small businesses to embrace e-commerce as a critical route to reach their consumers and revenue source,” said Jeff Somers, president of Insureon.

Businesses that don’t sell online will struggle to stay relevant in the modern age, but e-commerce doesn’t just mean partnering with Amazon. Typically, a small business’s website is the most common place to sell.

3. Feature customer ratings and reviews.

When buying online, people need extra input to tip toward commitment.

When you’re looking to buy, who do you trust more: a long-time neighbor or a sophisticated salesperson? Obviously, humans are biased toward “ordinary people.” One of Amazon’s best features in their abundance of ratings and reviews. Capitalize on this yourself and allow the words of others to convince your prospects.

4. Become a destination.

Amazon is convenient, so make your business an experience, not just an errand. Change your product mix regularly and make it enjoyable for people to physically “discover.” Add entertainment with lessons, parties, samples, or anything to engage families. Tell your story and give people pride in doing business with you.

An Enhanced Customer Experience

Amazon isn’t killing small business, but it is changing the way we buy and sell.

Payoneer e-commerce manager Iain McNicoll says Amazon has given entrepreneurs a chance to create customer experiences they might have otherwise been overlooked:

“People see Amazon as crushing small business,” McNicoll said. “Really, I think it opens up a door for small business, allowing them to now reach new customers that they wouldn’t have been able to reach in the past.”

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Four Exercises to Fuel Your Design Innovation

A businessman draws paints a rocket that will reach a goal set on a planet's surface.

Even the most brilliant creators need new fuel from time to time.

If you’re feeling stifled or uninspired (or you just want to have fun!) consider some of these creative “sparks” from designer Jim Krause to ignite fresh perspective in your monthly routine.

Exercise: Make a puddle of ink. Blow the ink around using a straw. Consider layering different colors of ink and using different kinds of paper. To mix things up, repeat this exercise but start the puddle of ink on an existing picture—a landscape, a silhouette, a cultural icon.

Takeaway: Creating things that create themselves reminds us that art is fun and beauty can arise from unexpected places.

Exercise: Choose a subject and create 25 thumbnail icons that depict its message and its meaning. If that’s too easy, try 50 or 100. Start with basic sketches and transition into graphic design or photos. Consider different line weights, shaded and filled areas, or combinations of geometric shapes.

Takeaway: Forcing yourself to sketch the same thing in different ways can build and broaden your artistic muscle. The next time you work on a concept, fill a full page with icon sketch versions of it before you settle on your design of choice.

Exercise: When was the last time you took out a paintbrush? Still-life portraits are a tangible way to sharpen your skills, especially when you combine objects of various shapes and textures in interesting arrangements (think eggs in a bowl surrounded by glass spice bottles on a bustled cloth napkin).

Takeaway: Still-life paintings are like eating your carrots: they’re good for you and increase your appreciation of texture. Painting helps you learn to see forms and colors, which makes you a more effective artist in any field.

Exercise: Begin with a blank piece of paper. Make a mark using the media of your choice (India ink, acrylic paint, and toothbrush, sketching pencils, chalk). The next mark you make will be a reaction to the first mark. This can be a new mark, a line, shading, fillers, or finishes. The goal here is not to “plan” what you’re going to draw but to practice progressive art by following one element to another (like a group of people taking turns adding sentences to a narrative). Your goal is not to create a thing of beauty, but simply to flow. If the results are pleasing, that’s fine. If not, that’ s ok too.

Takeaway: This exercise teaches the artist to rely on instinct: to react or flow rather than to plan and control. The best art can be born out of spontaneity.

Tend Your Roots

Creating is like breathing: it brings energy and life! If you only create what you’re “told” to do, you will stagnate. Tend your roots by cultivating the passions and interests that nourish your artistic core. As you pursue creative expressions outside your job or career, originality will flow in your profession as well.

Now that your designs are really singing, find high impact print options that won’t shock your budget. Want to talk cost-effective wow factors like thermography, high shine coatings, or alternative bleed options? Give us a call!

 

Team Collaboration Transforms Customer Service

Smiling customer support operator with hands-free headset working in the office.

T-Mobile touts itself as “America’s Fastest Unlimited Network.”

In a fiercely competitive market, T-Mobile knows one of its most crucial responsibilities is to bring pleasurable customer support to the millions who call their helpline each month. While traditionally its call service center resembled a factory floor (cubicles brimming with reps donning headsets), T-Mobile has dedicated the past decade to reinventing its service sector.

Today when you enter a T-Mobile contact center, you’ll find reps sitting together in shared pods as they collaborate to solve customer issues as a “Team of Experts,” or TEX. TEX teams include cross-functional groups of 47 people who serve named customer accounts in a specific market. Each team has a point leader, four coaches, and eight technology specialists. Customers no longer wade through a “call tree” but have immediate access to a dedicated, reliable team. Teams are so connected to their service region that they follow the daily news in this area and decorate their pods accordingly (like a Lego replica of the Golden Gate bridge).

“We’re constantly talking about what’s happening there,” said a senior rep whose team serves San Diego. “I’ve never been to San Diego, but I know what’s going on in the local news, where the best place is for fish tacos, and what the surf report looks like for the next few days.”

Now a team in Chattanooga is responsible for 120,000 customers in Detroit, and a Charleston team responds to suburban Philadelphia. This collaboration allows each service team to operate like a small business, with members laboring together to increase performance. As a result, employee turnover has decreased by 48%. T-Mobile now boasts its lowest “cost to serve” ratio in company history (down 13% since 2016) and has been ranked the number one wireless company for service by Nielsen for the past 24 months.

Together Everyone Achieves More

Team collaboration fuels innovation and provides consistent service for your customers.

Does your team have a sense of enthusiasm or shared DNA that brings measurable results? T-Mobile started with four questions:

  • Are our customers happier?
  • Are they staying with us longer?
  • Are we deepening our relationship with them?
  • Are we making their service experience low-effort?

Embracing a team-service focus brings your clients more effective answers. Reps develop more authentic relationships with clients, which means they can improve their everyday service functions. And this ultimately enhances the product or service you offer. A superior output prompts higher customer loyalty, increased sales, and better word-of-mouth for your business.

Here are three tips to help you improve customer service teamwork:

Clearly State the Team Objectives

Teams can’t move fluidly until everyone knows what the “win” is.

Highlight Team Performance

Regularly communicate achievements, challenges, and specific goals. As progress is celebrated, motivation and unity increases.

Create a Sense of Belonging

While T-Mobile’s traditional customer-service managers only measured individual performance, today compensation is variably weighted according to both individual and team performance.

Teams use collaboration software to resolve calls and alert each other of escalating issues (like regional power outages). From this ownership mindset to a wholesale transformation of the factory floor, customer care vice president Callie Field says team unity has empowered everyone to do more:

“If all you ask people to do is bring down their handle time, they can do that. But if you empower them to do more—to think like a small-business owner who is focused on the customer’s happiness and the strategic management of their P&L—they can do that too. And they’ll do it really well if you give them the tools and get out of their way.”

Target Local Consumers with Event Sponsorship

Sponsors Welcome

Corporate sponsorship is one of the most effective marketing channels, but most businesses haven’t tried it.

What is event sponsorship and why should you consider it? From a 5K road race to a good old-fashioned neighborhood picnic, companies that get outside their walls can make a huge splash in the community.

Won’t You Be My Neighbor?

Businesses that rely on local support understand that their company will grow primarily through the support of its neighbors.

How do you engage your neighbors?

By being a good neighbor! Put a face on your business by sponsoring a baseball league, hosting community events on your lawn, or by mobilizing your city to benefit a beloved charity.

Community development events show you are invested in your region and you enjoy its people. Here are some fun examples of how firms have made this a reality:

  • Budweiser helps sponsor the annual “duck” tape festival in Avon, Ohio. With music, brews, fashion shows, and family-friendly movies, the three-day event draws more than 60,000 people from around the world to see taped parade floats and a playful tapestry of taped costume creations.
  • McDonald’s and Pizza Hut sponsor “the Chicken Show” in Wayne, Nebraska, which features a “national cluck-off” and the world’s largest chicken dance celebration.
  • In 2016 Pretty Pampers Beauty Essex hosted a charity event that offered affordable and luxurious experiences while raising money for The Cystic Fibrosis Trust. Local spas teamed up to provide steeply discounted services like massages and facials so donors could relax and unwind. Between sessions, guests could shop boutique vendor stalls featuring local clothing, jewelry, cosmetics, and home decor.

Hosting or sponsoring an event can help your business demonstrate its commitment to community involvement, philanthropy, and family fun. Of those local businesses who get involved in a community event, 80% said they were satisfied with the results and many reaped tangible benefits like features in local newspapers, tags in citywide blogs, promotional newsletter highlights, and social media selfies!

Events spread your name in print through T-shirts, prizes, water bottles, and giant displays, and photos of real people in action. This prompts word-of-mouth marketing that simply can’t be captured elsewhere. In 2016-2017, companies who used local events saw sales increase by an average of 14 percent.

Use Corporate Events to Spread the Love

How can your business get started in spreading some cheer?

Sponsor a charity event or contest, host a sales or promo booth at a community festival, promote an on-site event, or allow your customers to nominate recipients of a “give-back” incentive you sponsor for your city. Sponsorship doesn’t always have to be monetary: you can also look for ways to volunteer branded items, free service from your company, or concessions donations for a city-wide festival.

Want to multiply your marketing dollars and make a lasting impact? A micro-market event focus can bring better results and spread the love. When companies support issues they care about, they gain greater trust and loyalty from patrons. And that investment is sure to yield great returns!

Etiquette Training for a New Generation

Hand writing inscription Etiquette with marker, concept

Johnny Oleksinski of the New York Post has a bone to pick with millennials and their bad manners. Consider one technology-related example:

“Last week I watched in horror as a 20-something girl carefully snapped a photo of a basket of onions,” said Oleksinski. “But we weren’t at a serene farm or the Marché d’Aligre in Paris — we were crammed into the Columbus Circle Whole Foods. Thousands of customers were streaming through the aisle trying to grab some garlic for their dinners, and Little Miss Annie Leibovitz was blocking traffic to get some artsy snaps of nightshades. Will she print out these photos? Nope. A pile of white spheres under fluorescent light is even too dull for Instagram. Next time, Annie, take a breath and think about where you are . . . Pay for your brie wrap and vamoose.”

Etiquette is Part of Your Brand

Oleksinski isn’t alone. Modern professionals are finding a suffocating relationship with technology has left them oblivious to social basics their elders took for granted.

Presentation, both personal and professional, is a key to showing who you are. And etiquette training of all kinds is making a resurgence for millennials.

“Etiquette is so much a part of your brand,” said Rachel Isgar, a Phoenix-based etiquette coach and author. “Just a few improvements can help your career.”

People respond to people, and poor manners may mean a hindered partnership, a missed promotion, or a collapsed deal. Companies like Beaumont Etiquette, which runs a marquee “finishing program” in the Plaza Hotel of Manhattan, have recognized a unique need for social training in the modern generation.

For $125, a participant can take part in a two-hour group session that teaches courtesy gestures, personal hygiene, and a range of soft skills conducive to successful socializing.

“Even if it was not something you were taught as a child, anyone can learn to have good etiquette, and it’s up to you to teach yourself,” founder Myka Meiers said. “I think, sadly, people become very self-involved . . . and forget about others. What I wish these people could learn is that by spending just a little time each day making someone else happy and spreading kindness, even the smallest gesture, their lives could be so much more fulfilled.”

Meiers says honoring others includes everything from table manners to Twitter posts. Just as we once taught people to “think before you speak,” how much more crucial should it be to “think before you post?”

“If you don’t want your grandmother or your boss to read it, don’t post it,” Meiers said. “Once it’s on the web, it’s out there for good.”

Want to curb your own bad behavior? Consider ten smartphone tips for starters:

  1. Never ignore those you’re with to make a call or text.
  2. Apologize to your guest if you need to respond to an important message.
  3. Never leave your ringer on in quiet places.
  4. Never use offensive language while using your phone in public.
  5. Don’t post work-related complaints on social media.
  6. Don’t photograph everything.
  7. Never post on social media while you’re under the influence.
  8. Don’t place your phone on the table during meetings.
  9. Don’t text people about work outside of normal office hours.
  10. Don’t dehumanize cashiers by using your phone while someone serves you.

Daniel Post-Senning, co-author of the 19th edition of “Emily Post’s Etiquette: Manners for Today,” says ultimately good manners are about putting others first, whether that’s online or at a dinner party. While social customs change, manners are timeless:

“Manners are really reflections of core principles,” Daniel says. “Consideration, respect and honesty.”

Tips to Become a More Decisive Leader

Leadership Concepts

Each January, people set New Year’s resolutions, embrace a visionary attitude for the year, or dream about possibilities for the future.

Some people thrive due to this natural “reset,” but others ignore it altogether. And some people just feel stuck. They wrestle with questions like these:

  •    “I’d like to write a book, but where would I start?”
  •    “I want to be more organized, but what is the best scheduling system?”
  •    “I want to quit my job, but what would I do next?”

Do you feel stuck as a leader?

Twenty years from now, you won’t remember how many loads of laundry you did or which Netflix series you binge-watched in 2019. What will matter is the relationships you cherished and the challenges you overcame. You’ll feel pride when you look back at goals you achieved or significant contributions you made. And this begins with action!

Your habits compound over time to shape your identity and to impact others. But this starts with an action-oriented, decisive mindset.

Here are several catalysts to help you become a more decisive leader.

The worst decision is no decision.

Many times, people postpone decisions for fear of failing or making a poor choice.

But most failure stems from inaction, not from mistakes we make in the process. Though some decisions matter more than others, often the decision not to act is the most costly choice of all. Don’t worry about doing the wrong thing or obsess over details. Make up your mind to be an action-oriented person and to learn from both your success and your missteps.

Action trumps the “perfect” plan.

It’s easier to steer a car that is moving than one that is parked.

Often, we over-prepare or over-think things, which is really just a form of procrastination. Taking action may mean prioritizing undesirable tasks above all others, or refusing to do things you enjoy until you solve a stalled problem. Momentum is powerful, so pick one area to begin and get started!

Narrow the field.

Sometimes the hardest part of a decision is the plethora of options before you.

It takes time to evaluate the pros and cons of every choice, so pare down choices (or have your team do this for you) until you have only a handful of options to consider. It’s easier to select one choice from two options than it is to select two options from 200!

Set deadlines.

When you struggle with passivity in a certain area, don’t keep kicking this pain point down the road.

Instead, give yourself a time frame to research options and set a deadline for making a choice. Putting “deliberation dates” on the calendar transforms possibilities into realities.

Delegate more.

As you start a new season, challenge yourself to stop doing just one thing, and to empower just one person.

Step back to evaluate your schedule or ask someone to help you do this. What is sucking unnecessary time or energy? Could you purge this or share more of your load with your team?

Delegate authority to a trusted staff member and empower leaders around you by training and trusting them. And don’t micromanage people, even if their style is different than your own. This discourages others because it suggests you don’t trust them or you desire control more than you want growth!

Failure to make a decision or take quick action can sometimes hurt your business more than miscalculations along the way. Improve your decision-making capabilities and make this your most productive year yet!

Boost Online Reviews to Drive Profitable Consumer Action

Customer Experience Concept, Happy Businessman Client with Question Mark Icon on Paper Bag, Crossed arms and wearing Suit. Concrete Wall with Wording of Positive and Negative Reviews

How do you grab a lifeline on “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?”

You ask the audience!

While experts tend to get a trivia question right two-thirds of the time, the audience gets that answer right 91 percent of the time. Why? Because individually we are limited, but collectively we are genius.

In today’s global economy, buyers understand the importance of collective intelligence. People rely on other consumers to help them decide what movies to see, which vet to use for their pets, or the best software to buy.

Recent studies show more than half of adults under age 50 consult online reviews before making a purchase decision. People trust and rely on these reviews, and products or companies that receive positive reviews increase the quality and quantity of their website traffic.

Gather and Manage Your Own Online Reviews

Customer reviews are an incredibly valuable asset in today’s world, and businesses have more power over these reviews than they may think.

Don’t leave your reputation in the hands of third-party sites like Google, Facebook, or Yelp! As you seek to generate leads and engage prospects, work to:

  • Encourage satisfied customers to leave reviews. Can you interview a brand loyalist personally? Have you launched an e-mail campaign to ask customers for reviews on recent purchases? Have you tried incentives to prompt greater response?
  • Get notified of new customer reviews and efficiently respond. Reply directly online or send a personal message to the reviewer to express gratitude or interest in their concern.
  • Aggregate and embed reviews on your business website. This increases the chance of positive reviews showing up in online searches by interested prospects.
  • Learn from reviews and improve service. Even negative feedback can signal customer engagement. The more you listen and respond to your customers, the more relevant and successful you will be.

As you flush out and manage reviews, don’t assume that search engines and review sites aren’t important. According to Mike Bluementhal, online marketing co-founder of GatherUp, Google is crucial:

“We advise small businesses to think of Google as your new Home page. Your Google brand result is one of your most important pages on the internet. That is not to say it can replace your website. It can’t. But your Google presence should reflect the best your business has to offer. People searching will see how you appear in Google and make immediate judgments.”

A Winning Formula

Bluemental says that 70 percent of new leads start at Google.

While traditionally word-of-mouth marketing the most powerful referral option, online reviews now hold tremendous influence. From phone calls, driving directions, or contact form fills, Google is the number one spot for new users to take action to connect with a business. And this behavior is strongly influenced by the customer reviews Google posts from the business website or social media pages.

In other words, manage your content and take great care of your customers! Care about what they think and streamline your service to their needs. Encourage them to share compliments. And when they do, give that content a boost so it appears far and wide online. Bluementhal says this will help entrepreneurs to improve weak areas while simultaneously growing areas of strength:

“It’s a winning formula in today’s landscape.”