How small businesses can compete on Prime Day

Anne D'Innocenzio
The Associated Press

NEW YORK – As Amazon gears up for its Prime Day promotion, other big-name retailers such as Macy’s and eBay are launching deals and sales of their own. But small businesses – including those that don’t sell much online – shouldn’t sit on the sidelines.

While entrepreneurs may not be able to go head to head with the online behemoth in some areas, experts say they should differentiate themselves by offering unique products and experiences, whether their business is rare books or shoe repairs.

“Stay authentic,” says Amit Sharma, who is CEO of Narvar, a tech company, and is a former executive at Walmart, Williams-Sonoma and Apple. “You can’t compete on price and promotions, but highlight your product and how you stand out.”

Amazon has emphasized Prime Day’s own impact on small businesses that sell on its platform. It said Prime members ordered more than 40 million items from small and medium-sized businesses last year during the promotion. And it said thousands of those businesses selling on Amazon had more than $50,000 in sales on that day. Consulting firm AlixPartners says that based on its surveys, more shoppers than last year are actually expecting to use Prime Day to shop for bargains at other retailers.

Mary Adams, who has owned and run the Annapolis Book Store in Maryland for nearly 14 years, is considering ways she might benefit from some of Amazon’s limelight on that day.

“I’m trying to stay alive,” says Adams, who has seen sales weaken at her shop that sells both antiquarian books and current best sellers as shoppers shift online or just don’t want to collect books.

She is contemplating launching a campaign to get shoppers to invest in local businesses. She’s also thinking of renting out some books that day – shoppers would pay full price but would get dollars off when they return them, and the books would then be sold as secondhand.

How else might small retailers capitalize on Prime Day?

— CREATE BUZZ AHEAD OF TIME: Small businesses can’t compete with Amazon’s war chest for marketing. The company has already taken to the TV airways to promote Prime Day, and sent emails to members. But smaller companies can blast their own emails, and even do local marketing such as digital banners on the area football field.

“They should build awareness from now until Prime Day,” says Roshan Varma, a director in the retail practice at AlixPartners.

— PLAN WHAT YOU WANT TO HIGHLIGHT: Small businesses shouldn’t just use Prime Day to get rid of summer leftovers or other products that haven’t sold. They should offer small discounts on new and special merchandise and even offer sneak peeks of holiday items – so that shoppers will have a reason to come back for more.

“The best strategy is to use Prime Day to gain customers in the long-term,” says Varma.

Experts also advise small business owners to examine which deals Amazon will be highlighting, and then offer small discounts on their own items that complement those products.

— PITCH SPECIAL EXPERIENCES: Whether you offer repair services or free coffee, highlight the intimate experiences at your business. Experts also think owners should emphasize their niche products. “The ‘everything store’ can’t compete with a locally curated assortment,” says Varma.