Why Community-Based Ecommerce Sites Trump Even Amazon

I spend a lot of time examining what Amazon is doing right as they blaze ahead building ecommerce experiences -- so much time that I might almost look like a fan. Many of the major ecommerce sites have paved the way for smaller endeavors, testing new techniques and putting them in place for the little guys to learn from. Their model works, too. Personalized welcomes to the site, carefully cultivated recommendations according to each visitor’s search history, easy checkout services… Online shopping is now a dream come true, and we can thank some of the bigger sites for showing others how it goes and continuing to invest in UX innovation.

But Amazon is still missing something, and buyers are starting to notice. Community ecommerce sites like Etsy, where individual sellers have an internet “storefront” to feature homemade goods, vintage finds, and other unusual items, are quickly gaining ground against ecommerce giants. At first glance, the two models are similar. Even Amazon admits they aren’t in the business of selling things so much as they facilitate sales between buyers and sellers. Etsy, with over $900 million in sales last year, operates in a very similar way.

So why did Etsy see a 71% increase in sales in just one year? I’m going to go out on a limb and suggest the main reason is personal connection.

Personalization

We already know Amazon’s excellent at personalizing the experience for users. After registration, visitors are always greeted by name, shown suggestions based on past purchases or even browsing habits, and given a chance to share opinions on products. Buyers may get to read an in-depth description of the items they’re ready to buy, and maybe even add inscriptions or engraving to a truly personal touch.

ecommerce registration for personalization

But is that touch really personal? Can you make personal requests to the creator of that scarf you’ve got your eye on? Are you even sure a real person knit the scarf or could it have been created by a machine?

Sites like Etsy and eCRATER open those lines of communication between seller and buyer. Consumers know exactly where the products come from, how they’re made, and who made them. If they want regular updates about the progress of any special orders, they can see photos or even videos of the creation process. That connection buyers feel just can’t be achieved with rote personalization like Amazon offers.

Customer Service

Of course, major ecommerce sites like Amazon offer customer service. Even the big guys know keeping buyers happy is one of the most important factors in building customer LTV. The purchase is really only the beginning of the buyer and seller relationship

But what happens if buyers want to ask particular questions about the goods being offered? If you have concerns while visiting Amazon, you have a list of links from which to choose. Will your question be directed to the right department on first attempt? Will your email or phone call be transferred to eight different people before it slips through the cracks?Amazon customer service links

When making a purchase from individual sellers on Etsy and similar sites, buyers have a direct line of communication with the seller. If changes are needed, suggestions requested, or customization ordered, everything goes directly to the person creating the items. What better way to ensure customer satisfaction?

Connection

While personalization and customer service are key to delighting customers, sites like Etsy and eCRATER don’t really have huge advantages over the monster ecommerce sites. Where these sites really win is through personal connection. As much as Amazon wants to believe personalization and customer service creates that connection, they fall short of the mark every time.

What really fosters that connection is a true personal touch. Buyers learn about the people creating the goods for sale, find common ground, develop sympathy and true feelings of camaraderie, which give meaning and purpose to every purchase. Instead of reading information about a company, site visitors are greeted with personal stories, photos of the seller in action, videos of items being made or used. When a purchase is made, the consumer knows proceeds go to support a family instead of a CEO in a corner office.

personal profile on etsy

We all love the convenience of buying online. We enjoy silence as we learn about the products that interest us, when in the past we’d have dealt with a chatty salesperson. Personalization and customization just makes the process easier for us, as well as more enjoyable. For all of these amazing benefits, nothing can top a meaningful experience—one in which we feel we’ve made a connection, helped a family, and procured something that’s one-of-a-kind.

Rather than move your business to Etsy, you could simply adopt the personal touches the site offers on your own ecommerce site. You can offer the same connection to your products and brand if you're willing to share more than just product photos and information. You could include some of the following to offer a richer, more fulfilling experience to buyers.

Personalization Goes Both Ways

Sure, you want to greet your returning customers by name, but do they all know your name? Your "About Us" page could be one of your greatest tools for conversion, as long as you're open, honest, and appeal to the specific buyer personas you're trying to reach. Tell stories about why you started your business, interview employees to show real people having fun with their job, and share photos and videos of your downtime. The more real you are to your customers, the stronger that connection will be.

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This ecommerce and brick-and-mortar store in Nashville, Old Made Good, shows the owners in a silly moment. They then make a heartfelt and sincere introduction, with plenty of information buyers can relate to. Much better than a page about the company itself, right?

Better Use of Rich Media

Images and videos of products are a great way to start the conversation, but you can't rely on these images alone. Give customers a behind-the-scenes look at how your products came to be included on your ecommerce site. Images of these products being created, videos of employees personalizing purchases, and even photos of the products being used by company owners, families, and friends can go a long way toward building a deeper, stronger connection between buyer and company.

Personal Guarantee

Buyers want to know they'll reach a real person when they have problems. Make sure your site includes a company guarantee, but then also include a personal message that can be seen on almost every page. Let consumers know you care about their experiences with your products and services. Invite conversation any time someone has questions or concerns. By providing a phone number, personal email address, and even an open forum for discussion, you let consumers know their experience with your company is much more important than their purchase.

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Morrison's Cellar does a wonderful job with this, using cute images, and a link to more information about the guarantee. 

What else can your ecommerce site do to form connections with buyers? How can you make the shopping experience meaningful as well as convenient? We’d love to hear your ideas.

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