5 Ways Retailers Can Fight Back Against Prime Day. Could One Be Amazon’s Achilles Heel?

The ecommerce giant has its weaknesses, experts say

It's almost ironic that Amazon is now venturing into the physical retail space.
Getty Images, Amazon

If ecommerce platform Amazon was a hero from ancient Greece, it might be Achilles, the demigod warrior who appeared unbeatable on the battlefields of Troy.

As anyone familiar with the origin of “Achilles heel” knows, his well meaning mother hoped to save him from his fate, which was to die in the Trojan War, by dipping him in the River Styx and gifting him with invincible skin. She held him by his heel, though, creating a point of vulnerability that would, in the end, fulfill his tragic destiny.

In terms of an ecommerce analogy, the point is really just it often seems Amazon, like Achilles, is invulnerable. And while it’s fair to say every other retailer in America faces an uphill battle on Prime Day, it’s not an entirely lost cause. Just look for Amazon’s heel. (And don’t try to outsmart the gods—that never works.)

Case in point: While research from digital marketing company Bazaarvoice shows 70% of respondents to its 1,000-person survey plan to shop at Amazon during this summer sale period, digital marketing agency Adlucent determined 72% of Prime-Day-shopping shoppers will also shop elsewhere.

But they’re not exactly shouting it from rooftops. For the two weeks prior to July 11, social media analytics firm Brandwatch found Prime Day was mentioned nearly 140,000 times online. In that same period, Walmart’s Summer Sale was mentioned 7,300 times, while Target’s Deal Days had about 700 mentions and eBay’s Crash Sale just 300.

“To put it another way, Prime Day owns 94% of all the summer deal mentions,” said Kellan Terry, Brandwatch’s senior manager of communications. “Walmart owns roughly 5%.”

"Prime Day owns 94% of all the summer deal mentions. Walmart owns roughly 5%.”
Kellan Terry, Brandwatch

Another social media analytics firm, Talkwalker, found a similar pecking order with the lion’s share of social mentions and engagement for Target’s Deal Days and eBay’s Crash Sale coming from news sites and roundups of Prime Day alternatives.

Likewise, mobile location analytics platform Placer.ai looked at in-store foot traffic during Prime Day 2018 sales and found Amazon subsidiary Whole Foods saw a meaningful bump, but it was pretty much business as usual for other big-box retailers. In fact, Placer.ai said Walmart and Best Buy had traffic on par with a regular weekend—and not even a good summer weekend.

But, unlike the Trojans, the fate of competing retailers is not yet written in stone, so they may want to consider the following tactics when gearing up for battle:

1. Offer better deals than Amazon

It’s pretty simple, but Bazaarvoice found 32% of the shoppers looking outside Amazon are searching for better sales.

Michelle Skupin, marketing and communications director at savings site RetailMeNot, noted Amazon’s biggest Prime Day deals are typically on its own products and services, so other retailers have an opportunity to swoop in with better deals on products they might want more.

According to the traditional retail playbook, said Allen Adamson, co-founder of marketing services firm Metaforce and adjunct associate professor at the NYU Stern School of Business, this means heavily discounting a single product, typically in the electronics department, to the point consumers see it as a steal and then those retailers have to figure out how to get shoppers to stick around to buy more.

His suggestion: focus on brands that don’t typically compete on price, like Apple or Bose, which “have a lot of pent-up demand, but the brand typically does not rely on promotions to move products.”

2. Capitalize on your physical footprint

In addition, 31% of respondents to Bazaarvoice’s survey said they shop outside Amazon because other retailers have nearby stores.

And, other than Whole Foods, Amazon Go, etc., a physical presence might actually be the closest thing Amazon has to a real-life Achilles heel.

Per Drew Kraemer, CEO of ecommerce-focused digital agency Marketplace Strategy, retailers have to understand where they can win, which might be a product category or might be delivery/pickup options from their physical locations.
Adobe said “buy online pick up in store” (BOPIS) has become a go-to option for consumers, particularly during key shopping periods. (Though Taylor Schreiner, principal analyst at analysis firm Adobe Digital Insights, notes that consumers usually use BOPIS for less expensive items.)

3. Focus on products consumers are still wary of purchasing online

While Amazon is pushing free shipping on big items like furniture, there’s still some trepidation among consumers when it comes to making a big purchase—like, say, buying a refrigerator sight unseen online, Adamson said.

“Large-box retailers have potential if they can get people off the beach,” he added.

4. Follow your own timeline

Amazon is flirting with an extended timeframe for Prime Day, but other retailers are free to experiment, too.

Kraemer noted an extension by other retailers beyond the official Prime Day is a good play because “you get the momentum.”

And while they can start early “to try to surf on the euphoria around Amazon,” retail consultant Bruce Winder cautioned consumers aren’t likely to buy from other retailers until they’ve seen what Amazon will offer.

5. Beware hubris!

Even with all the potential Amazonian weakness outlined above, it’s unlikely other retailers are going to give the nearly invincible hero warrior god of ecommerce a run for its money—in this battle, at least.

“Amazon will swallow the lion’s share,” Adamson said. “The others will pick up the table scraps.”

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