Amazon dominates online retail, but the e-commerce heavyweight has come under fire for its seller practices, which some say thwart competition.
On the surface, these two stories seem unrelated. Yet, for small retail businesses trying to get in front of larger audiences in 2022, they reveal an expensive, challenging future.
However, the rise of Amazon alternatives – where retailers can reach consumers outside of the world of the e-commerce giant – offer a dose of hope.
Retail relief: The growing need for Amazon alternatives
For many small businesses, advertising on Facebook and Instagram is crucial. It’s the law of linear commerce: Until you’ve grown a large audience of your own, your reliance on advertising — particularly paid social media — will be high.
And while any retailer can sell on Amazon, it’s expensive to do so and difficult to earn, then maintain the buy-box button that ultimately gets you a lot of sales. Many hire agencies to manage this for them, or someone full-time with Amazon marketplace expertise. Small businesses often don’t have that cash flow.
Some consumers have taken note, and try to avoid Amazon’s marketplace, choosing to buy goods locally or from small online shops they find.
This is important because 32 million Americans work in retail, making it the largest private-sector employer in the country. When you take suppliers, manufacturers and other retail-supporting jobs into account, it adds up to 52 million jobs and $3.9 trillion of annual GDP.
There’s also the e-commerce technology and financial technology boom that’s given rise to companies like Shopify, Affirm, PayPal, and many more. That boom was largely funded by small business and entrepreneurs, who thanks to Facebook’s advertising platform and powerful targeting tools, could compete with big-box retailers like never before.
As the privacy-first web comes to life, we will need to untangle a twisted web of the pros and cons from the era of third-party data.
It won’t be as easy as a single policy, any one privacy update, and it certainly isn’t as easy as a blanket restriction on targeting.
That’s because retail is the lifeblood of the U.S. economy. One in four American jobs is supported by the retail industry in some way, making it a concerning issue when one marketplace earns 25% of all American e-commerce dollars.
It doesn’t have to be this way.
Creating e-commerce marketplaces can allow operators to capture revenue from industry giants and help brands stay relevant in an Amazon-dominated world.
Online shopping options: Marketplaces and more
Amazon’s marketplace is convenient and easy, but others are working on building similar experiences for small businesses. Here are three alternatives to consider as you shop for goods.1. The Fascination
This is a curated online marketplace where you can discover, research and shop top emerging, mission-driven brands. All products featured have been tested by the team, which is well-funded by top retail and media executives.
“As CEO of Leesa, I realized consumers need help and validation from trusted reviews when they make a purchase. I also hated the way Amazon commoditizes products by offering cheap lookalike alternatives alongside premium products,” The Fascination’s CEO David Wolfe said.
The marketplace features more than 150+ ecommerce brands, including household names like Allbirds and Warby Parker alongside up and comers in newer categories like CBD and non-alcoholic aperitifs.2. ThingTesting
Technically, ThingTesting isn’t a marketplace, but you can use it like one. Started by a former venture capitalist as she tested new e-commerce products and reviewed them on her Instagram page, it’s turned into a fully fledged media site, including user-generated reviews for products, easy-to-navigate category browsing and shopping, a powerful newsletter, and in-depth e-commerce brand reporting.
The website features over 2,000 e-commerce brands, and their team plants a tree for every review someone leaves.
In all, ThingTesting is more community than anything else. Users can submit new brands they like, can review products they’ve tried, and can easily get in touch with the team behind the curation to share ideas and ask questions.
3. Co-op Commerce
This Amazon alternative also isn’t a marketplace, but you may have already used it. Co-op Commerce is an app for Shopify stores (though they will likely expand beyond that in the near future). Once plugged in, the app suggests relevant brands to consumers after they’ve purchased your product. This makes shopping at smaller e-commerce shops (i.e., not Amazon) similar to the Amazon experience, where you can continue to deep dive on cool products related to your purchase.
Keep an eye out for this the next time you checkout. Simply scroll down (just past where you’d put in your phone number for text message updates as the product ships), and you’ll see a long list of brands you can explore.
This app helps consumers find new brands without having to be targeted with ads, which in turn helps to wean e-commerce brands off a heavy reliance on paid social for discovery. It’s a win-win for everyone involved.
The future of online shopping requires choices
Consumers have always chosen convenience over all else when it comes to buying goods online.
As more and more brands get online, as competition rises, and as the privacy-first web threatens small businesses, taking away one of their most powerful tools for discovery, it’s important that all of us use the tools we can to discover, explore and support the small retail businesses keeping our economy afloat.