Practical Ecommerce

5 Advantages of Small Merchants over Industry Giants

Large online retailers may have the technology, marketing budget, and resources to automatically generate personalized websites or to build sophisticated marketing campaigns, but smaller merchants also have strengths. One of those is the ability to create more personal encounters for customers and provide better experiences for them.

When I sold video games online, I saw first-hand the advantages of being a small merchant. In this post, I will discuss some of the reasons why smaller retailers have an edge over the Goliaths in the world of ecommerce.

One-of-a-kind Products and Services

While many other companies offer customization features and allow people to “build their own” merchandise, only small businesses can provide true one-of-a-kind products that are unique to each individual customer.

As a small merchant, you can usually coordinate directly with customers, offering them what they really want and need. Individual tweaks and changes can also be done easily.

Julie Degnan, owner of Cakes and Kids, a retailer of baking and party supplies, says that being able to personalize products is the best advantage that she has over large retailers.

“I am able to take the time to match my products to their invitations or other party items. I can create a custom look for them that larger retailers cannot by mixing and matching my products to their specifications.”

Zoom Enlarge This Image

Julie Degnan of Cakes and Kids personalizes products to match invitations or other party items.

Julie Degnan of Cakes and Kids personalizes products to match invitations or other party items.

Not buying in bulk and serving customers directly also gives smaller merchants another big advantage: you can make special concessions if you need to.

Kate Pixley, a designer of handmade baby and bedding accessories, said that her company’s size gives her the ability to tailor products to the unique needs of her customers.

Zoom Enlarge This Image

Kate Pixley uniquely tailors her products to her customers.

Kate Pixley uniquely tailors her products to her customers.

“Whether it’s a woman who went into labor early and needs the bedding faster than originally planned, or a mom who requires a little extra for her child’s particular needs, I’m able to adjust to the needs of my clients, no matter how specific they may be.”

Know your Customers on a Deeper Level

Compared to larger retailers, small business owners can directly deal with you patrons so you can get first-hand feedback that a questionnaire or focus group cannot match. Because of this, you can give accurate product recommendations, personalized services, and more importantly, you can improve your business to better serve your clients.

“I don’t need to rely on surveys or customer service statistics to tell me how I’m doing because I am in touch with my customers on a daily basis. I am really able to listen to my customers and that helps me to grow my business that much faster” said Cakes and Kids’ Degnan.

Address your Customer Concerns Quickly

Aside from the absence of canned messages, electronic greetings, and impersonal scripts, smaller merchants are more nimble when it comes to addressing customer concerns.

There’s no need to go through a long chain of command. If a client needs something done, you or your employees can handle it in a quick and decisive manner. No need to wait for approvals. Decisions can be made quickly and customers don’t have to wait for answers for extended periods of time.

You Can Be More Agile in the Product Development Process

Rolling out new products is a much simpler process if you’re a small merchant. The absence of corporate bureaucracy makes it easier for small businesses to move forward with plans or make changes to the company.

Additionally, customers of small businesses can have a bigger influence about what products or services are put out in the market. Dan Santoni of Inspyder Software Inc., a search engine and web crawling software firm, said that since his company develops its own products, it is able to incorporate customer feedback directly into the product development cycle, which helps them roll out new features faster than the bigger companies.

Zoom Enlarge This Image

Dan Santoni of Inspyder Software incorporates customer feedback directly into product development.

Dan Santoni of Inspyder Software incorporates customer feedback directly into product development.

Moreover, phasing out products is easier — and cheaper — for small merchants. If a particular product isn’t doing well, you can usually discontinue it without being left with heaps of unsold inventory.

Show Off your Personality

Sometimes the smallest merchants have the biggest personalities. Smaller merchants can let their personality shine through the products, ads, and marketing materials.

Moreover, being a small business allows you make a more effective first impression with new customers. Travis Nagle, owner of online furniture store Viesso, said that being a small merchant helped instill his company’s personality with shoppers.

Zoom Enlarge This Image

Travis Nagle creates his own values and brand personality as a small merchant.

Travis Nagle creates his own values and brand personality as a small merchant.

“Most customers don’t have a preconceived idea of who we are, so that affords us the chance to make a big impact with their first experience with us” Nagle said.

Jerry Jao
Jerry Jao
Bio  |  RSS Feed


Get the Practical Ecommerce RSS feed

Comments ( 2 )

  1. Emma Schuster June 12, 2013 Reply

    Jerry, couldn’t agree more. Smaller vendors can react fast and offer customers new product options almost immediately. Our sellers (who use the Doogma Designer on their site) say that once a user has "created their own version" of a product online, the user is much more likely to click the Buy Button.
    I am just reading a copy of the new book "the Custom Nation" that describes in detail why USA customers love to buy customized and personalized items online.

  2. Jerry Jao June 13, 2013 Reply

    Emma, thank you so much for your feedback. Your example on "Buy Button" is great – and I will def look up "The Custom Nation" shortly. Having been a small merchant myself, it’s really the little things that count and will make an impact in the long run.

    On-line shoppers are smart and savvy, so anything we could do to make a different and impact their experiences with our stores should be seriously considered.

Email Newsletter Signup

Sign up to receive EcommerceNotes,
our acclaimed email newsletter.

And receive a free copy of our ebook
50 Great Ecommerce Ideas