How Startups Can Compete with E-Commerce Giants Amid the Pandemic

It comes with little surprise that as the pandemic grows, the demand for safe, one-stop online shopping options grows, as well. The numbers reported by big-box retailers reflect this logic. Target reported the strongest quarterly sales growth in its history. Walmart touted unprecedented earnings in Q2 which led to a 97 percent revenue boost from just last year. Amazon, the behemoth that it is, banked a net income of 5.2 billion in Q2. And Shopify, the namesake in e-commerce, noted $714 million in Q2.

This all illustrates one thing: If you want to scale your business online, now is the time to do it — and yes, it is possible to do it even if you are a small business. 

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While you were sleeping, Walmart announced a partnership with Shopify, and Shopify announces a new app to compete with Amazon

Now, if you’ve been caught up with the news around Amazon’s growth, allow me to steer you in another direction: Shopify. The Shopify e-commerce hosting platform is growing rapidly. To showcase how it’s flexing its muscles, look no further than the partnership it just made with one of the nation’s leading retailers: Walmart.

In June, Walmart announced that it’s partnered with Shopify to help boost small businesses’ growth and allow them access to the Walmart Marketplace. The goal for Walmart is simple: reduce rivalry between itself and Shopify, increase sales, and compete with Amazon.

The partnership’s goal is to bring on 1,200 Shopify sellers by year-end, allowing them to get in front of 120 million monthly visitors. All the sellers have to do is download the new Walmart Marketplace App in the Shopify App Store and add/edit their product assortment as they’d like it to be seen on Walmart.com.

Additionally, consumers will be able to download Shopify’s new “shop” app on their devices and shop from 1,200 plus independent Shopify sellers. It will be interesting to see if and how Walmart and its vast array of products will tie into this in the future, as well.

Walmart introduced Walmart+ recently, too, and for $98 a year, consumers can partake in an “Amazon Prime” style membership, with goods delivered in a similar manner to doorsteps.

So, if you thought Amazon was the beast to watch, it’s time to turn your attention to Shopify. With 500,000 sellers (which isn’t capping-off any time soon), it is not far behind Amazon’s 2 million sellers. And now that Walmart has been thrown into the equation, you can bet this is only going to strengthen the company’s numbers at a fast pace.

Related: Boost Your E-Commerce Presence Now to Prepare for a Possible Second Wave of COVID-19

For selling physical products online, the internet is the great equalizer

If you think that the growth of the big guys is discouraging; think again.

As a startup, you are smaller, faster and have more capabilities to pivot your marketing and products on a whim. The Targets and Walmarts of the world are not as agile as you.

Every day is a new opportunity with new sales channels; whether that be selling over Facebook, Instagram or live video. Like with “guerilla marketing,” throw some influencers into the mix to give more depth to your live videos.  Big-box brands can’t get on board with these new technologies or products as quickly as you can. They have department approvals and corporate processes to go through; you, my friends, don’t. So, take advantage!

Digital differentiation aside, you can also offer a customer experience like none other by taking phone orders. That’s right, I’m talking about good, old-fashioned sales tactics that nurture the customer’s relationship with your small business. It’s golden and it has doubled our company’s average order size.

Speaking of customer experience, you also have the power of connection via outstanding customer service. Just think, when people try to call up Walmart (or even Amazon) to complain or to get help with an order, their customer service is shaky at best. Utilize the power of connection and brand culture to create a killer customer service program that will have your customers turning into lifelong buyers. Get on the phone and utilize those customer service skills!

That all being said, I want to stress that while these big brands have their place for intimidation, they also offer small businesses excellent chances to scale with their programs and platforms.

These platforms should be a part of your sales strategy. Many entrepreneurs shy away from using them because there are fees associated with their use, which can seem unrealistically large. But, think of it this way: you are going to pay just as much (or more) attracting new customers yourself, so you might as well roll with the fees and allow the hardest part to be done for you.

For instance, almost 50 percent of Americans currently use Amazon as not only their shopping browser, but also make their purchases through Amazon.com. So, for you, this means getting in front of hundreds of millions of people ready to buy.

With this in mind, just like a good investment portfolio, diversification is a must-have, especially when it comes to selling on these platforms. Never put all your eggs in one basket. Sellers on Amazon learned this the hard way during the pandemic when fulfillment came to a standstill. These Amazon sellers realized they not only do not truly own their business but even worse, they lost access to their customers.

Luckily, each of the big-box marketplaces has its benefits for sellers, and getting on these platforms requires just a little bit of legwork for long-term pay-off:

Walmart Marketplace

After submitting some information about your business and getting approved, the Walmart Marketplace is yours for the taking! Some perks for selling on Walmart is having access to their fulfillment centers, the potential for two-day shipping, and accessing their immensely large (and loyal) customer base. Plus, unlike some platforms, Walmart charges a referral fee per item sold rather than a monthly one.


Once you have an account in place, Amazon provides a hefty user base that will automatically expose your brand to the right audience. On top of this, being a seller on Amazon opens the doors to repeat business without the need to spend tons on advertising. Plus, you never have to worry about fulfilling orders, as the giant can do this for you.


Recently, Target launched its marketplace, Target Plus. Unlike Walmart and Amazon, their sellers face a harder onboarding process with a strict invite-only structure. However, once you’re in, there’s a myriad of benefits to enjoy, like mass exposure to Target’s customers. 

Google Shopping Actions and Retail Listings

Google also recently entered into direct competition with Amazon, and not many people even know it. This is quite possibly because G Suite advertising and selling solutions for e-commerce site owners are named in ways that confuse pretty much all of its intended users, or just that it is a new offering.


Do not overlook this key sales channel, as many analysts also accredit this quickly growing “handmade” craft style website as one of the websites that will help dethrone Amazon.

Organic SEO, paid search and more

Rather than reinvent the wheel, why not ask the master how to compete with the big guys in search?

My buddy Neil Patel taught me everything I know about search, so I asked him, “Neil, what would you say are the best ways a smaller e-commerce site/online store can compete with Amazon, Walmart, Target Online by utilizing paid and organic SEO?”

Neil said: “Google loves ranking niche sites that specialize in one thing. If you are a new e-commerce player, pick your niche. If you go too broad at the beginning, it will be hard to compete. Once you’ve found your niche, go super in-depth when it comes to your product, content, education and anything else you need to provide to make your site the go-to place for that market.”

I could not agree with Neil more. Start with your product detail pages, and make sure you write original content, answering all of the questions customers might have about the product. Use free services such as answerthepublic.com to see what questions are being asked about your niche, and answer them! Don’t overlook basic SEO tasks such as writing original meta titles, descriptions, H1-H6 titles, and image tags and you will be ahead of 90 percent of your competition.

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Fix shopping cart snafus

Make sure your cart is reliable during web traffic surges. Don’t try to reinvent the web by building a fancy-schmancy custom cart to get your e-commerce store off the ground. Use a full-service option for your cart like Shopify. That way, they do most of the development and heavy lifting. Less developer drama, fewer site outages.

It’s also vital to make sure you hit some important stops when it comes to creating a well-rounded checkout experience. I always advocate for the creation of a sales funnel for this.

There are four key things to include to increase revenue automatically, including:

  • The pre-purchase order bumpThis is a pop-up offer that a user gets when they add products to their cart. It’s an incentive, based on what was added. Let’s say they add a cleanser to their cart, then the pre-purchase upsell might be a moisturizer for a special price.
  • The cart page bumpHere, you’re giving the customer a last chance to grab something at a value right before they click “Proceed to Checkout” in their cart. Think of this one like the “impulse buy” section many retailers have by their registers in-store.
  • The “thank you” upsell: The last stop in the funnel is the “thank you” upsell. For this, you give an exclusive, heavily discounted offer to the customer with a time limit on the thank you page after a customer makes a purchase. We do something like “Order Again and Receive 50 Percent Off On This Exclusive Product” with a 10-minute time limit.

Now, boost customer loyalty 

Implement a customer loyalty program. Software companies such as Smile make this easy to implement with most website platforms. But let’s dive deeper. How is your unboxing experience? Have you made an effort to tell your personal story to purchasers, and is it presented in a way they will listen?

It is beyond important to ensure that once you get one sale, you get another and another. The goal is customer longevity; after all, it’s far less money to invest in a returning customer than it is to onboard a new one. So, be smart, and be note-worthy as a brand.

Transition your sales to the online space

During the pandemic, I was deluged by business owners who were struggling to get online stores up and running. But the thing is, it’s not hard. You can create a Shopify account in one day. There are endless tutorials to help get you started.

You can also introduce essential items like hand sanitizer or masks into your product mix to become more competitive, or even add a new classification as a personal care product provider. It’s what’s helped many small businesses stay open during these times.

With that, I’m signing off. For those of you who think the online market is too saturated by the big guys, it’s time to rework that frame of mind and get yourself out there today!

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