How Small, Independent Retailers Can Compete with Amazon

By Jeff Hunt

After killing napkins, cereal, and beer, it seems millennials are taking a breather to buy some homes. That’s right, the generation that was once all but accused of also killing the housing market was actually just waiting until its student loans were under control to take on mortgages.

That’s good news for gardening and lawn care retailers – but there’s more to the story. In addition to competing with long-dominant giants such as Home Depot and Lowe’s, independent retailers may soon have to worry about Amazon as well.

Although Amazon is still a relatively small player in this space (with $6 billion in sales in all of 2017, compared with Home Depot’s $24.9 billion in Q1 2018 alone), it’s growing faster than the incumbents, and is already dominant in categories including smart-home tech and tools.

What’s more, Amazon recently announced that it will allow 360-degree photos for products in its lawn and garden category. That kind of visibility into products could persuade more homebuyers to purchase equipment online before ever setting foot in your store.

But it doesn’t have to play out that way. Independent retailers can compete with the “Everything Store” by creating a shopping experience that connects with millennials so that they return again and again. Here are five strategies to try:

1: Offer video tutorials

It stands to reason that first-time homebuyers would want guidance on how to use major power equipment they likely never touched as renters. Consider that doubly true for millennials – many of whom grew up hyper-scheduled, and, as a result, spent less time helping around the yard than past generations.

Enter video tutorials. Think of them as the modern-day replacement for instruction manuals – that’s what millennials are doing. In fact, 70 percent of millennials turn to YouTube to learn how to do things. This means your videos don’t have to be fancy or clever – just helpful.

If you don’t have the time or resources to create your own videos, consider following the lead of one home insurance startup, which created a handy home maintenance guide that links to other people’s how-to videos. You could do the same for outdoor power equipment.

2: Invest in high-quality product photos

I mentioned that Amazon is letting vendors include 360-degree images of gardening and lawn care products, which means these images are the new industry standard. 

But that’s probably a good thing: when automotive parts manufacturer Gold Eagle Company added 360-degree images to its website, it saw sales increase between six and eight percent within weeks. The message is clear: online shoppers want a complete view of products before they purchase.

That’s substantial, given that obtaining high-quality, professional 360-degree photography has become affordable in recent years. Maybe more important: we have yet to see an industry where 360-degree imagery didn’t improve conversions.

3: Promote your wares (and their output) on social

Facebook may be the social media platform millennials use most, but Instagram’s streamlined layout makes it particularly good for promoting photos and videos. The platform has particular promise for retailers. For example, thanks to Instagram, millennials are becoming enthusiastic houseplant owners – so much so that independent plant shops are opening around the country to meet rising demand, which is an encouraging trend for independent retailers everywhere.

A few tips for promoting content on Instagram:

• Use only high-quality images or videos of your products (360-degree images let you easily create GIFs and videos that automatically rotate, which is important when users are looking at your posts on mobile devices).

• Expect to pay between $.50 and $1.00 per click.

• Make it easy for users to click through to your site.

In addition to promoting images of your products themselves, show what they can do by including before-and-after pictures of yards and gardens being transformed. Showing how your products can get benefit customers and their landscapes is a powerful message.

4: Offer an in-store pickup option for online orders

Here’s a heartwarming statistic: 73 percent of home improvement shoppers make purchases in local stores even after researching them online. Whether that’s because they don’t want to shell out hefty shipping costs for bulky items or because they want to actually touch a big-ticket purchase before buying it, the finding is good news for independent retailers.

There are ways you can increase the likelihood of this happening at your business:

  • Ensure your website has enough product information (including images, as mentioned above, and prices) that customers feel confident making a purchase.
  • Streamline your buy-online-pick-up-in-store (BOPIS) option so it’s easy for shoppers to find and use.
  • Designate a special BOPIS location at the front of the store so these busy shoppers don’t have to wander around to find their merchandise.

5: Make your store a destination

Another oft-reported quirk of the millennial generation is that they prefer experiences to things. Although outdoor power equipment falls squarely in the “thing” category, you can give this generation what it wants by making buying from your brand an enjoyable experience.

Doing that starts with implementing the tips listed so far: make your website useful and easy to navigate, tell your target customers about your products in a way that connects with them, and make it easy to buy from you.

When they get to your store, make sure salespeople are ready and willing to help with the purchase process. Also, consider hosting DIY events for tackling common new-homeowner yard problems.

Jeff Hunt is CEO of Snap36, a provider of affordable, high-quality, and interactive 360-degree product photography services that help the world’s leading organizations build comprehensive and accurate image libraries to increase brand value, drive engagement, grow sales, and reduce returns. Hunt is an online marketing veteran who has been involved in technology industry for more than 25 years. It was at his former workplaces Scene7 and Adobe that the concept of Snap36 came to fruition. Clients wanted a simple, scalable and cost-effective way to do 360-degree/3D photography. Hunt developed the “Touch Once” process, combining expertise in technology, art, production and logistics. The streamlined photography and implementation process has helped to cultivate a market eager to improve conversion rates, brand consistency and reduce returns among several metrics. For more information, visit


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