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cut through major retailers

“An army without leaders is like a foot without a big toe.”
Billy Murray, Stripes

But in an online war of the retailers, Amazon’s always leading the pack.

Recently, a physical expansion into US high streets made its way to the UK; the retail giant opened its first brick-and-mortar store in the Bluewater shopping centre this October.

But the megacorp isn’t just satisfied with finding new ways to infiltrate our streets; it’s innovating online, too.

Launched in the US and likely to follow here, Prime members are now able to send Christmas gifts to friends or family members without an address. As long as the recipient is also an Amazon user, users can send their pressie via a mobile phone number or email address.

A holiday miracle for Christmas shoppers. But for the average online retailer? Well, this news will probably feel more like the dreaded ‘Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come’ than It’s A Wonderful Life.

Because with nowhere near the same amount of resources or budget, how on Earth are you supposed to keep up?

Just take a breath, web-based warriors. Here are 5 guerilla tactics to help combat those major retailers…

  1. Get to know your buyers - and their behavioural biases 
  2. Prove your products are the best 
  3. Reinforce your story by being consistent 
  4. Pay attention to the little things 
  5. Streamline the checkout process 

#1. Get to know your buyers - and their behavioural biases

Did you know that while we casually embark on a spot of online window shopping, we actually bring a number of biases along with us?

Some of which can actually end up making our decisions for us.

Sure, it’s a pain for us if we’re not looking to spend but these cognitive biases can actually help retailers a great deal.

But only if they know how to use them.

Firstly, there’s distinction bias. According to The Decision Lab, this describes the process in decision-making where we “...tend to overvalue the differences between two options when we examine them together.”

Bearing this in mind, it’s important for retail brands to ensure they have a point of difference within their competitor set.

Just take the card and stationery category for example. It’s a crowded market, traditionally dominated by heavyweights like Card Factory, WH Smiths and Clintons. However, by creating a sense of distinction, the likes of Papier and Ohh Deer have also found a comfortable place.

Essentially, it comes down to the signals they’re giving off and the consequent brand perception they create.

Card Factory

In this category and elsewhere, e.g. with Poundland or Buyagift, blue and yellow is synonymous with value - so it makes sense for Card Factory.

WH Smith


WH Smiths and Clintons opt for a plain yet classic palette that positions them dead centre in the middle of the pack.


With muted tones and modern font choices, Papier feels like a more contemporary and luxurious choice.

Ohh Deer

Whilst Ohh Deer adopt playful, pastel tones and GIFs, appealing to younger or more arty audiences.

We’ve spoken in detail about this before; when it comes to branding, creating a sense of distinction is one tip that will never go out of fashion.

But this isn’t the only bias that online retailers should be aware of.

Humans have a strong scarcity bias, too. We unconsciously assume things that are scarce are valuable and things that are abundant are not.

While this doesn’t always work in our favour - cue apocalyptic loo roll and petrol shortages - it can produce positive outcomes for retailers.

In The Choice Factory, Richard Shotton argues that scarce promotions are effective because they harness consumers’ genuine feelings about brands.

“Shoppers believe retailers act self-interestedly, so if the supermarket limits sales there is an insinuation that the bargain is so good it is losing that store money,” he said.

Of course, it’s only right to stress scarcity if it’s actually true. But there is one tactic that retailers can implement where the ethics can’t be questioned.


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#2. Prove your products are the best

“Whether the question is what to do with an empty popcorn box in a movie theater, how fast to drive on a certain stretch of highway, or how to eat the chicken at a dinner party, the actions of those around us will be important in defining the answer,” said Psychologist Robert Cialdini in his bestselling book Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion.

These are classic examples of social proof in action.

According to FortuneLords, implementing social proof on your site can help boost your conversion by up to 15%. But they also note that around 85% of consumers think that reviews older than three months are no longer relevant.

OK, but keeping up with that kind of admin takes a lot of work - right?

Not necessarily. There are a number of social proof platforms available that can do the legwork for you. These include:

  • Fomo - this tool helps brands showcase customer buying behaviour on their sites, gently persuading anybody who’s on the edge of converting towards making a purchase.
  • Proof - this software’s designed to build trust on-site in real-time, telling visitors what other customers are doing and reassuring them in the process.

And you don’t have to be a major retailer to make it work. An example of a brand that’s doing a great job is Beer52. Just look at the amount of real-time social proof the team aggregates on their homepage…

Beer52 1

Up top... 

Beer52 2

Across the middle... 

Beer52 3

And down the bottom.

Their homepage tells a consistent story that Beer52 are basically, pretty good actually.

This leads us to our next point...

#3. Reinforce your story by being consistent

It’s no secret that brands need to create and promote distinctive assets. Doing so strengthens memory structures in our customer’s brains and grows their mental availability for the brand.

But for Kate Waters, Director of Client Strategy and Planning at ITV, building these connections in our customer’s brains is about reinforcing and reiterating current creative - not reinventing the wheel.

In ‘Biting the hand that feeds us? Why advertising’s love of novelty is doing brands a disservice’ from Eat Your Greens, she recommends asking yourself four questions before coming up with a new creative idea:

  1. What assets does the brand already have that can be leveraged to good effect?
  2. What assets have potential but need reinforcement?
  3. How best do we build mental availability for this brand?
  4. How best do we build mental availability for this brand?
  5. So, does that mean we shouldn’t strive for original ideas?

Of course not; that’s part of the job. But according to Waters, there’s an important caveat:

“New positionings, new messages, new designs, new endlines only work for brands if they are used consistently and in a way that strongly links them to other brand assets, thus strengthening the memory structures in the brain for that brand,” she said.

All the top brands create a consistent “look and feel” in their ads; an enduring conceptual or narrative thread that ties everything together. Just take Coca Cola and McDonald’s infinitely joyous advertising over the years, for example.

But when you’re a smaller brand with a relatively-sized budget, it’s even more important to build upon what you’ve already got in-house.

Every asset counts.

#4. So pay attention to the little things

A larger retailer has had years to cement its positions in the marketplace. But to continue to do so, it must tell a coherent and consistent story to customers.

Impossible if that story isn’t straight in-house though.

Because our research of 200 UK marketing professionals found that despite 91% of marketing decision-makers agreeing that having up-to-date brand guidelines is important, 43% haven’t reviewed them in the last 12 months.

Unfortunately, when you’re on the back foot against major retailers, getting this stuff right is crucial. Because when a brand’s assets feel misaligned online, customers quickly lose trust - then look elsewhere.

Well, Digital Asset Management (DAM) systems are designed to help with those little - but often time-consuming - things like image consistency. For example, our own solutions Asset Bank & Dash can optimise your digital assets so that they’re consistent for every channel. All you need to do is:

  • Upload your brand assets into the system
  • Set your formats and pre-set sizes - ready for any channel
  • Share the correct assets with your teams

Essentially, DAMs ensure your brand story stays coherent so you can get creative with the narrative.

But every story needs a good ending.

#5. Streamline the checkout process

According to research by Baymard 18% of the 4,329 US shoppers who responded to the survey, abandoned an order due to the checkout process being “too long” or “complicated”.

But what exactly is too complicated?

Well, we know how simple it can be; Amazon being the obvious example. But the other end of the spectrum shows that there’s definitely room for online retailers to improve.

Because further UX research from Baymard reveals the average checkout to contain 14.88 form fields - that’s twice as many as there needs to be.

Sites like ASOS have got it down. If you’re new to the store you can sign up via Google or one of your socials - then checkout in minutes.


Little touches like the auto address finder make the process nice and painless. As does having delivery options and payment details on the same page. Not having to navigate away from your order to add card details makes it easier to commit to the cart.

It’s a three-step process - or at least it feels like one. And that’s what’s important.


For ASOS, making small changes made a big difference.

It might seem commonplace for online retailers today but when they first removed the account creation part of their checkout process, they reported a 50% increase in sales.

So although it’s the last part of the journey, your online checkout can’t afford to be an afterthought.

Not sure what to get rid of? Conduct some user testing or, if it’s easier, measure visitors' behaviour using a heat mapping tool like Hotjar. That’ll give you all the answers you need.

Because it might not be possible to win the retail wars. But by making these tiny tweaks to your strategy? Well, you can definitely keep your brand in the battle.

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