This week I decided I desperately needed a booklight. So, like most people these days, I went onto Google, typed in “booklight”, and scrolled through a few different options with the intent to purchase that day. The search yielded a host of results, all originating from merely three stores: Amazon, Target, and Barnes and Noble. The products were all of comparable quality and price, and any choice would have made me perfectly content, but I was bothered by how limited my options appeared to be. Three stores? Those may be the biggest sellers of booklights or the cheapest sellers of booklights, but they certainly are not the only sellers of booklights. I pictured a small business owner with handcrafted, one-of-a-kind booklights desperately wanting to sell her products but no way to get her name out into the abyss of big-box stores and massive retailers listed on Google. I imagine I’m not the only one thinking about that, and I believe many Millennials feel similarly. Sure, Millennials want their online shopping experience to be well organized, easy to search, with fast and direct shipping. But many Millennials also want to boost the economy through small business, support eco-friendly brands, and have unique items additional to those available through Amazon. Unfortunately, the most accessible search engine we have doesn’t help us with that.
I’m drawn to sites like the massive retailers that promise delivery in no more than two days. And sometimes that’s exactly what I need: the cheapest, fastest thing. But other times I’m driven to find quality outside of mass-produced items. Those searches usually turn into epic online shopping odysseys that are ultimately fruitless because I can’t find any small brand alternatives to Amazon or Target, and it’s frustrating.
A contributing problem is that I don’t know many of the niche sites for all the products I randomly decide I need or want. When I search for a product on Google, I get Amazon, big-box 1, and big-box 2 for my options, otherwise, I’m directed to Etsy which is perfect for most unique, specialty items, but that isn’t always the right site for other products. This predicament mainly arises because small business SEO rarely gets to the forefront of major search engines. So because I don’t have a pre-generated list of good, small business retail sites to visit —and Google doesn’t show them to me— my options appear to be limited when they aren’t at all.
Sophelle recently conducted a survey asking retail professionals which website is doing the best job compelling shoppers. Almost uniformly, the experts pointed to Amazon and Target. They gave those names for good reason: the platforms are easy to use, consistent, and effective. They have tons of options for any given product at competitive price points that are hard to beat. It’s not surprising that the most successful brands have the most successful websites — they’re interdependent. Creating a website with ultra-high levels of functionality isn’t cheap, so it’s no wonder small businesses struggle to compete on the same level.
Some new Millennial and Gen Z retailers are bypassing this seemingly insurmountable challenge through alternate platforms like TikTok and Instagram. They’ve learned to circumvent the search engine and the high-end website by creating viral content showcasing their products with links to purchase. People view, share, and comment on this content leading to a wider audience than most marketers could have previously dreamed.
Google may have monopolized the search engine, but there are many other ways to get brand names out to the people who want them. I’m hopeful for the future of online searching because I know there’s so much more for smaller retailers. I predict that we might eventually see some Millennials and Gen Zs actively avoid certain big-box stores to emphasize their autonomy and boost the businesses of their own peers. As soon as smaller retailers can access a platform that allows them to advertise their products just as effectively as Google, we’ll see a major shift in buying habits of Millennials.
—The Soph in Sophelle, 3/2/21