The rise of Amazon has prompted some observers to suggest independent ecommerce merchants are threatened. Rick Wilson, CEO of Miva, the ecommerce platform, disagrees. He says independent ecommerce is robust. His new book “Dragon Proof Ecommerce,” offers a roadmap for continued growth.
I recently spoke with him about the book, Amazon, and the outlook for independent ecommerce. What follows is our entire audio conversation and a transcript, edited for length and clarity.
Practical Ecommerce: Your new book, “Dragon Proof Ecommerce,” is a guide for independent merchants in an Amazon-dominated world. What is the state of independent ecommerce in 2019?
Rick Wilson: The state of independent ecommerce is thriving. Amazon’s percentage of retail ecommerce is growing at the same rate as ecommerce overall. In other words, non-Amazon retail ecommerce is growing, too.
Much of the media positions Amazon as a Goliath that’s going to kill everybody, which is not true. That’s why I wrote the book. There’s always been a dragon — a dominant force in U.S. retail. It’s now Amazon. Not too long ago it was Walmart, supposedly destroying communities. Before that it was Sears. Interestingly, 100 years ago, Sears Roebuck had more revenue as a percentage of U.S. gross domestic product than Amazon does today.
PEC: Your book describes requirements for success in independent ecommerce. What are they?
Wilson: A number of things. Having a great product discovery experience is the single best thing for an independent ecommerce seller — helping shoppers find what they need in a way that is superior to in-store shopping, if possible.
Here’s an example. Borsheims, the Berkshire Hathaway jewelry subsidiary, is a client of ours. One of the clever things they have on the site is an engagement ring builder. It has Borsheims’ live inventory of diamonds, and shoppers can customize an engagement ring.
Another example is Plant Therapy, also a Miva customer. They’re growing like gangbusters. They sell essential oils, a commodity product, but they built a brand around it. They’ve grown a Facebook community around the health benefits of essential oils. Then they leverage that community — where people trade ideas — back to their own Plant Therapy website. They also sell on Amazon. They’ve created brand loyalty for what is, arguably, a pretty standard item.
Getting away from Miva examples, consider the rise of subscription box companies. They’re a type of product discovery — getting good stuff in the box every month.
Those are the things that I talk about in the book that are defensible in a dragon world.
PEC: The Borsheims example is a customizable product. Is that a key component for success?
Wilson: Customizable products are important. Commodity items are okay as long as you can build a brand around them, such as what Plant Therapy has done.
PEC: How has Amazon affected Miva?
Wilson: On the whole, Amazon has been a net positive for us. Amazon was the first company to build trust in ecommerce. They’ve made people comfortable with buying online. From a selling standpoint, there are 2 million independent merchants on Amazon. It’s helped a lot of sellers to realize that there’s a bigger market.
The thing I tell Amazon sellers is this: If you can sell with margin on Amazon, you’re not leveraging your business properly if you don’t also sell directly and independently. Yes, Amazon has rules about customer data harvesting. But put a warranty card in there, give someone a gift for filling out the card, and get him to come to your website.
PEC: There’s a movement of sorts for digitally-native ecommerce companies to open brick-and-mortar shops. Do you see that accelerating?
Wilson: I don’t see it accelerating from our customer base, but it could accelerate overall, yes. Both options — bring pure brick-and-mortar retailer into ecommerce and vice versa — are part of the bigger picture of multichannel selling.
Product discovery is a multichannel endeavor by its nature. We are in the early days of those experiments. Pop-up stores within bigger stores are another example.
PEC: Where can readers buy the book?
Wilson: Dragonproofbook.com offers the best price. Readers can also sign up there to be notified of a podcast we’re starting where I’ll be talking to merchants about dragon-proofing their business.
PEC: Anything else?
Wilson: Amazon is both a threat and a catalyst to success. Independent ecommerce is growing at the same rate as Amazon. We’re still in the early adopter phase. Only about 13 percent of retail sales in North America are online. The market will continue to evolve at a breakneck pace until 50 percent of retail is either online or a mixture of online and pickup in-store. Don’t let Amazon scare you out of the game.