What can retailers do that Amazon can’t?

As 86% of respondents to the 2019 Progressive Housewares/bira Retail Barometer concur, online operators such as Amazon are regarded as one of the biggest threats to independent cookshops and housewares stockists.

Above: Attendees arriving for the two-day retail event which took place at the end of March.
Above: Attendees arriving for the two-day retail event which took place at the end of March.

“Focusing on the positives of British retail, how can Amazon’s dominance drive us to steer new strategies and innovations? What can we do that they can’t?” journalist, broadcaster and author Harry Wallop challenged a panel of speakers at last week’s Retail Week Live conference that included Peter Pritchard, ceo of Pets At Home, Miriam Lahage, ceo of Figleaves, Morgan Fowles, coo of Spoke London and David Grimes, founder and ceo of Sorted.

“As a retailer you have to be everything that Amazon isn’t,” stated Peter Pritchard, with Miriam Lahage emphasising that at Figleaves, the company doesn’t think of Amazon in terms of David and Goliath. “We don’t try to overtake it,” she explained. “We are a niche, specialist company in lingerie and swimwear. Our advantage is that we offer many sizes and styles of one product. This allows us to have our own online business, but also play in the Amazon market place. Our business is a search game.”

Above: Delegates at the recent Retail Week conference.
Above: Delegates at the recent Retail Week conference.

As Peter Pritchard highlighted, “Amazon has no emotion. It is a machine. However, we as retailers have a magic key and that is people. We do the reverse of automation. Through people we add value to our business, with our staff holding conversations of relevance with our customers. Of course Amazon is a threat, but as a retailer you have to bring it back to what you are good at and to evolve with your customers.”

Sorted’s David Grimes said that trying not to lose brand identity by being on Amazon is crucial. “Amazon is a powerful partner, but we all need to own our customers which is the most important thing. Having niche products and a strong personality within the brand is how retailers can stand out.”

As he pointed out: “The advantage that independents have over Amazon is that they can engage with their customers and utilise click and collect. But the real power lies in bringing offline and online together.”

On the question of delivery, David highlighted that if you are an Amazon Prime customer, you can get what you’ve ordered the next day. “So how does a normal, online retailer compete?” he asked. “Amazon have set the bar very high, but they have £billions to invest which other retailers don’t have. The key for retailers is therefore to partner with a specialist to help to level the playing field. Free delivery is key and retailers need to invest in that area.”


Top: From left to right: David Grimes, Morgan Fowles, Harry Wallop, Miriam Laharge and Peter Pritchard.

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