Aim big, start small

At Semantics3, we get of all sorts clients ambitiously attempting to defeat the monsters of the likes of Amazon.

Not very effective until you get to level 20.

As a Data Consultant at Semantics3, I’m on the front lines engaging with people who share with me their ideas for taking on the e-commerce giant. Some idea’s are excellent and are backed by talented people who’re backed with great investors. Others are a bit out there but with experimentation can be refined to something in working order.

Of the ideas I hear about, the ones that usually don’t end up doing so hot all have the same two things in common:

  1. They’re an industry newcomer wanting to sell everything available on the planet and beyond
  2. They want to compete on price.
This is a recipe for disaster. Let me tell you why:

Mistake 1: Wanting to sell everything

PROBLEM: At Semantics3, our focus is about delivering quality product and pricing data. Data is our lifeblood and we happily offer it to our customers especially if they’ll able to use it intelligently. It’s incredibly tough making it big in any one industry, let alone in several industries at once.

Chances are you are definitely not simultaneously an expert in electronics, beauty products, yogurt making, backpacking backpacks, dog toys, swimming goggles, and flashlights so why would it make sense to have a massive inventory of unrelated products as a startup?

I understand you’re trying to compete with the biggest players in e-commerce but having it all is not the way to go. You can have an entire warehouse of product but if you don’t know how to effectively sell it first then it’s pointless.

SOLUTION: Amazon started selling books. Google was JUST another search engine. Instagram was just a photo app with filters. Twitter was an internal messaging app.

Amazon logo 1995.
Google logo 1997.

In all of these examples, none of these became ridiculously dominant in their respective industries by directly aiming for it. They had a clear goal in mind and set out to serve the people that would best benefit from it first.

Whether they were guaranteeing the lowest prices for books efficiently or they were just trying to help people search the web better: they solidified themselves as experts in one topic first then focused their efforts on a slow but expansive growth.Should you be building or buying? More at “Build or Buy? Tackling this age-old dilemma in the age of SaaS”.

Mistake 2: Competing on price.

PROBLEM: Moving on to competing with price, I chat with a lot of people with e-commerce platforms that aim to beat the competition by price and my first instinct is to say “but Amazon?” They tell me you can search through products and categories to find products and again in my head I silently go “but Amazon?”

They want to use our Match&Merged Data to map products and pricing against multiple retailers and I go “But Google?”

SOLUTION: Most consumers will usually purchase products from the most experienced and seasoned retailers for a variety of reasons. They’ve established themselves as experts already so consumers can buy with confidence. Theses retailers can be price competitive because they can. They usually have a community of people who writes reviews for products so consumers have trust.

To go into an industry as a newcomer and immediately compete on price is like stepping inside a cage with an experienced MMA fighter while you’ve only just seen a few UFC matches and expecting the crowd to cheer for you. It won’t end well.If you MUST compete on price, do it effectively with pricing intelligence like we explain here “Your Discount Pricing Strategy may be Flawed”.

Preventing yourself from falling into these traps

From my experience working with hundreds of customers and potential customers looking to use our APIs for product data, I’ve found that those who are most successful with our data are the ones that curate.

It’s one thing to have a warehouse for old books but another thing to curate and organize them in a way that’s easy for your customers to digest. Such is the way most successful startups have in common.

Millennials are a big reason why e-commerce is exploding, and “Retailers just don’t know how to sell to Millennials”. Curation is key.

Follow these proven steps to gain traction now:

1. Establish expertise in a field you are genuinely interested in or are extremely familiar with

Pick something you’re extremely familiar with. Whatever you do, you should try to align things to your interests. For example, I’m massive gear head, so sites that tell me about the best or newest gear interest me like Their selection of outdoor/lifestyle gear are all area’s that their writers are well acquainted with, thus they’ve established themselves as people that shoppers can trust with over 6 million page views.

2. Curate , curate, curate!

It’s great to have a wide selection of products/offerings to customers but if they don’t know where to start then it’s all for naught. By hand picking items to focus on, it’s easier to direct customers to products they want to purchase. Definitely be ok with sharing your opinion because you’ve established yourself as an expert already. It’s easier to choose something recommended to you by someone you trust than simply pointing them in a general direction. By curating, consumers will come for the products but stick around for the content. A great example of this is Massdrop. Their community driven discussions allow for Massdrop to curate products for consumers to collectively acquire products at a lower price.

3. Encourage user engagement

This is crucial as user engagements offer you incredible feedback to constantly improve your platform. By building a community of which consumers can offer their own suggestions, ideas, and opinions, you’re essentially tapping into a resource of potential experts and another reason why consumers should come to your e-commerce site. Check out to see how a community of “Everyday Carry” enthusiasts (people who are obsessed with creating the perfect setup of gear to carry everyday) creates rich user generate content inspiring other like minded enthusiasts to come back to the site everyday.

4. Rinse, and Repeat

Enough said.

Closing thoughts

To recap, in my experience speaking with so many clients, having all the data is pointless if you don’t know what to do with it.

  • Don’t sell your brand short by immediately competing on price. Instead, make it essential that you’re offering far more value as a brand than just selling products at a discount.
  • Offer customers the confidence and trust when they choose to do business with you.
  • Curate products and content to lead customers to a more informed better purchase.
  • Encourage some form of feedback from customers and create an accessible community for users to be a part of.

At the end of the day, e-commerce drives itself and the most successful brands simply facilitate.

Need help getting started? Book a call with us today!

Written in San Francisco by Ray Liang and the Semantics3 Team.