Word-of-Mouth and Referral Marketing Blog

Andy Dunn’s Survival Tips For Ecommerce Retailers

Ecommerce retail is a jungle.

Founding a company can really suck. And it sucks even more if you’re an ecommerce retailer. CEO of Bonobos Andy Dunn wrote last year that if you’re competing with Amazon in the low-cost selling of third-party brands, you will lose, and the best thing that will happen to you is an acquisition. 

But no entrepreneur worth their salt gives up without a fight.

Dunn urges small ecommerce retailers to stand their ground by offering the depth of experience that big players can’t. The idea of Dunn’s “proprietary strategy” is that carving out your own corner is as much about what you exclude, as what you include.

Here, we illustrate the four pillars of Dunn’s strategy with existing ecommerce retailers at the top of their game.

1. Proprietary pricing – Temporary, exclusive deals give your store traffic and exposure

Proprietary pricing is what created the flash sale industry. Price is a powerful motivator, and temporary price breaks are the single best way to drive conversion online. – Andy Dunn

One King’s Lane – Groupon of throw pillows and footstools

The Pinterest-like home and decor site has regular flash sales according to theme. Currently, it’s Bastille Day and the site is promoting French-themed furniture.

Fab.com – everyday design at great prices

Fab.com featured design flash sale

Fab offers an impressive range of discounted items, from home and decor to clothes and accessories.

Threadless – crowdsourced designs, frequent flash sales

Screen Shot 2014-07-15 at 7.01.57 AM
current flash sale. My friends and I used to go crazy over Threadless sales, and order collectively to save on shipping costs.

Your business model doesn’t have to center on flash sales for you to benefit from them. Threadless thrives on crowdsourcing its tee-shirt designs, and also holds frequent daily deal promotions.

2. Proprietary experience  – Repeated delight nurtures loyal customers

A few boxes haven’t delivered anything I really loved, but even then I hardly cared because I still got $10 worth of entertainment opening the box and examining its contents. – Erin Griffith writes about Birchbox, for Pando Daily

Subscription ecommerce has been growing ever since Birchbox pioneered its sample box. And imitation is the sweetest flattery – the fact that so many similar business have sprouted is a mark of its incredible success.

Birchbox – the pioneer of discovery commerce

Griffith describes Birchbox’s strength – “beauty has struggled to bring consumers online since most women want to see, smell and try the products they’re buying. But Birchbox embodies curation, content, marketing, subscription commerce, all in an industry that hasn’t caught up to the Web.”

Followers are so enthusiastic that they photograph and video their “unboxing days”.

Hello Flo – “like Santa for your vagina”

From “First Moon Party”

You must have already seen Hello Flo’s viral ads, Camp Gyno and First Moon Party. Not only were they seriously entertaining, they also embody Hello Flo’s focus – equipping parents and their growing daughters with the tools to understand bodily changes.

3. Proprietary selection – Specialized selection for a narrow audience

While the merchandise is not exclusive, it can feel exclusive for three reasons: the depth of the assortment, the difficulty in finding the products elsewhere either online or offline, and the power of their communities. – Andy Dunn

Dolls Kill – single-mindedly edgy

Dolls Kill
Dolls Kill is fully committed to rebellion and youthful angst. It’s also where I get most of my clothes.

Dolls Kill features a collection of underground brands for a very specific community – probably the goth-punk rebel girl with a resting bitch face. It’s easily the specialist in this selection.

Wild Fang – radicalizing menswear for androgynous women

The Wildfang team – “We’re here to liberate menswear, one bowtie at a time”

Wildfang curates clothing for the modern-day tomboy. Because it’s very difficult to find menswear that fits the female body well, the store is popular among women who present androgynously – many of them queer women

Eloquii – trendy plus-sized fashion

There’re many plus-sized ecommerce stores, but we love Eloquii for its story.

Eloquii was first launched in 2011 as The Limited’s plus-sized line. It got a loyal following, but was shut down because The Limited wanted to focus on its core business. The Eloquii team refused to give up because it saw the potential in bringing trendy clothes to a largely neglected plus-sized market. They relaunched the brand early this year, which is now lovingly referred to as Eloquii 2.0.

4. Proprietary Merchandise – Offer your own product and own your  own margin

By offering goods which are not available anywhere else, customers have to buy them directly from the brand. In this way, you own your own margin and you don’t have to compete with other sites selling your brand. At the end of the day, you’re not building an ecommerce company, you’re building a brand that has ecommerce as its core distribution channel. The difference is subtle but momentous. – Andy Dunn

Bonobos – Fun, Fit and Service

Bonobos is best known for its line of chinos. Because it’s proudly obsessed with a good fit, Bonobos offers a complete omnichannel experience – customers can book an appointment at the Guide Shop, in which they’ll get undivided attention from the Bonobos ninjas.

Bevel (Walker & Company) – a shaving system designed for men of color

Founder Tristan Walker comes to an underserved market – people of color – with his own product. Bevel is the first 5-part shaving system clinically tested to reduce razor bumps, which is a problem for 80% of men with coarse or curly hair. 

xconfessions – your very own fantasies, re-enacted by Erika Lust

Erika Lust xconfessions

Erika Lust’s xconfessions allows subscribers to submit confessions, and Erika selects the best to bring to the screen. The films are tastefully made (yes, a few are free) and none of them feel PornHub-generic. Plus, watching re-enactments of your deepest fantasies is the closest you’ll get to having your cake and eating it too.

Go forth and conquer.

Despite Amazon’s retail dominance, Dunn is optimistic about the power of small ecommerce entrepreneurs:

With the grizzly bear in the room, what should everyone else do: give up?

Hell no, this is America. We’re capitalists and we’re fighters, and today’s David is tomorrow’s Goliath.

Who is it going to be?

Melissa Tsang

Melissa Tsang

Melissa Tsang is a writer and speaker on the social impact of ecommerce and technology. She's also a bit of an impulse shopper. (A bit.)

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