Can Retailers Win Their Customers Back From Amazon?

Building a sustainable business is about having these elements in place and meeting the changing expectations and buying behaviors of today's customers.

Photo: Pamela Gockley, Speaker, Author and Award Winning Marketer; Source: Courtesy Photo
Photo: Pamela Gockley, Speaker, Author and Award Winning Marketer; Source: Courtesy Photo

I hear it all the time from retailers: “We can’t compete with Amazon!”

Amazon, founded July 5, 1994, by Jeff Bezos, is considered the world’s biggest retailer. Amazon’s market leadership can be tied to the fact that the e-tailer quickly adapted to changing consumer buying trends. Something that retailers must also learn to do well, to keep up with the rapid pace of innovation.

“Amazon (AMZN), which emerged from the dot-com bubble [is] one of the few winners and continued to blaze a trail of impressive growth […] Amazon survived the dot-com bust because it had a viable and innovative business model built around a market-changing customer value proposition and a radical profit formula” according to Bloomberg Businessweek.

They “upended the staid book industry. Then … quickly expanded beyond books to include all sorts of easily shippable consumer goods, growing from its core into near adjacencies. But Amazon didn’t stop there.”


Win Customers Back (And Keep Them)

Retailers, like Amazon, have found that most consumers want quality products, delivered when they want, and to have their expectations exceeded. So, they too need to transition their business to the modern customer-centric reputation model.

The reputation model includes: people, product, process and promotion (not to be confused with the 4p’s of the marketing mix). Here’s a specific look at where retailers go wrong when it comes to the reputation model and its impact on their growing businesses.



Generally, retailers train new hires on policies, procedures and products. Most fall short in continuing to keep staff up-to-date on trends in customer buying behaviors which are based on customer feedback and reviews. Few have a systematic method for accomplishing this goal.



Often retailers resell products from many different manufacturers. Most do not have open communication or close relationships with their suppliers.



This is where retailers need the most improvement; and some need a complete overhaul.

Most customers want a relationship with the brands they love, and enjoy human interactions with well-trained staff. So, why is Amazon the largest retailer in the world if they’re not poised to deliver on these key consumer desires? If it’s not about price (and it’s not) then what?

First, customers, regardless of where they shop, want convenience. They want to purchase a well-researched product today and take it home. Many retailers have too many products, and not enough stock. If a customer has to wait 3 to 4 days to receive their purchase, why not go to Amazon and have it delivered to their door? Reducing the number of products you carry and only keeping on hand products you can afford to have in stock is a simple solution.

Secondly, poor customer service is a retail crisis. Ranging from unfriendly and untrained staff, to poor store layout, and no channels of communication. If Amazon can contact customers post-sale to request a review and purchase feedback (including queries about packaging effectiveness) surely retailers (large and small) can follow suit.



Retailers generally have two issues with their promotions. It starts with their promotional methods which advertise sales and discounts followed by their messaging that customers are number one (but only in theory).

First, when your promotional calendar is chock-full of ongoing sales and discounts you create “coupon people.” These customers that have been taught to buy predominantly when there’s a sale.

“If you’ve spent many years training customers to wait for your price promotions it’s very hard to get back to better profitability,” according to Nancy Smith, founder and CEO of Analytic Partners, who studies the impact of price promotions on brands.

Meanwhile, when it comes to generating sales and creating awareness with promotions, retailers are guilty of one-way communication channels in which the customer has no path to respond.

Does your website have a way for customers to easily send a question or submit feedback? Do questions asked via social media platforms usually go answered or is your phone system a confusing “press 1 now” maze of automated messages?


Thankfully, these issues can easily be addressed and fixed by retailers. It starts on a long road to get customers back to their stores. Building a sustainable business is about having these elements in place and meeting the changing expectations and buying behaviors of today’s customers.


This article has been edited and condensed.

In 1996, Pamela Gockley and Dean Hornberger founded a small Internet website graphics, design, and maintenance company called “Grumpy Graphics.” This venture blossomed in 2000 into an award-winning, multi-service company, Vigilant Corporation, headed by Pam as President, CEO, and Chairman. In 2004 Pam was selected as one of the Best 50 Outstanding Business Women in Pennsylvania, honored for her years of success in owning and operating Vigilant, as well as her many years of service to the community. In 2005 she received the Entrepreneurial Achievement Award from Kutztown University’s Small Business Development Center. In 2014 she was selected as one of Lehigh Valley Business 25 Women of Influence. Connect with @pgockley on Twitter.


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