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SMB Technology: Ecommerce Beyond the Age of Amazon

Amazon.com is like its namesake: A force of nature that can and does change the environment around it.

The ecommerce giant first shook big retail establishments, and now it is moving the foundations of small and midsize businesses. Here are some of the technological ways the small business community can learn and profit from what Amazon has built.

Shipping matters

It does not matter if you have a physical storefront or an online store; if you agree to ship product, people expect it fast. Some merchants have established an Amazon Storefront only to find the company then competes with them directly. However, online or physical stores can use shipping services, such as Shipwire (which is similar to Amazon in that it stores your products and ships when orders come in).

Of course, sometimes you only need to sort out the best options from the usual suspects (FedEx, UPS, or USPS). For that, try iShip.com.

Cashless is the new king

Cash may be king, according to the folklore, but cashless payments are the new normal. If you do not take credit cards in store or online, then you are missing out on business. I wrote about this in Forbes a couple of years ago, and it is still a popular post: Why Don’t More Small Businesses Accept Credit Cards?(Intuit data estimate 55 percent of small businesses do not accept credit cards).

Take a look at Square (a serious contender for small businesses), PayPalIntuit GoPaymentWePay, even Bitcoin, as well as a host of others that aim to make it easier for your customer. Payments industry studies show that 66 percent of all point-of-sale (POS) transactions are done with plastic—credit, debit, or gift cards. And only 27 percent of purchases are made with cash. In fact, studies estimate that cash sales overall will drop to a mere 23 percent by 2017.

On top of the curve

Update your shopping cart software or service; you cannot make do with a simple “Buy Now” button any longer. You need live chat, smart recommendations (you know, that “Customers Also Bought” section on Amazon), and other tools that keep your customer engaged and store that knowledge so you learn more about customers to serve them better.

Provide a true mobile experience

You see people using their smartphones every day, for just about everything. In 2016, orders via smartphone are expected to surpass computer orders. If you wonder if that will impact you, just remember that Google changed its ranking criteria to make “mobile friendly” more important. So if your site doesn’t show up fast and look good on a mobile device, you get penalized, and perhaps your site and business will not appear in a Google search. Mobile commerce is just one more step down this path.

You can test your site, for free, with Google’s Mobile Friendly Test tool.

Offer richer content and social media

Sure, you need well-written content to describe a product or service, but customers often want more details. They want photos, videos, and 360-degree 3D views to help them see from different perspectives. If you do this enhanced content right, then the information is much more likely to be shared on social media which is a rapidly growing way to reach customers. It is not enough to just have a TwitterFacebook, or Pinterest account (or Snapchat or Instagram; pick your favorite daily flavor). You need your content to be well done and easily shared. Pick an ecommerce tool that will allow you to do that, such as BigCommerce and Shopify, which have been recommended here before.

Amazon may be the 800-pound gorilla, but it does not mean you have to visit the zoo and play with him (or her). You can use these methods to get a competitive advantage. You can peruse their site and learn from them. Stay nimble; move fast; sell more.

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