Amazon Apocalypse

Nathan Rigby answered the question solemnly: how should tackle manufacturers cater to retailers while expanding their presence with Amazon? 

You’ve got to pick a side. That’s what Rigby said, in so many words, at last week’s Sportfishing Summit in Tampa, Florida. Rigby— a keynote speaker and VP of Sales & Marketing for One Click Retail, a firm specializing in eCommerce and Amazon strategy—presided over the crowd of 200 or so manufacturers, industry experts and retailers and told them that a storm is coming. “You’ve got to shoot where your target is going to be, not where it’s at,” he said.

By target, he meant customers.

So where is the target going? If Rigby is right, they’re going to Amazon.

And while Amazon’s current fishing tackle offerings present a smattering of the arcane and obscure, the company’s gaze is ever shifting towards fishing tackle. “Right now, our customers look at Amazon like Darth Vader,” said one manufacturer. And he’s right. But with a valuation of $430 billion, the force is strong in Amazon.

Worldwide, only Apple, Google, and Microsoft are worth more than Jeff Bezos’ online powerhouse.

In April of this year, Amazon was worth more than twice the value of $220 billion Wal-Mart. In August, Amazon announced a search for a second, 50,000-job U.S. headquarters. The bidding process has cities on every coast scrambling to attract the online retailer and offering hundreds of millions of dollars in tax breaks. In October, three representatives from Amazon were in the crowd of sport fishing industry experts to hear Rigby’s address.

Know Your Enemy

The fishing industry is gearing up for a fight. Independent retailers are scrambling for strategies to compete with Amazon’s inevitable invasion. Manufacturers are bracing for negotiations that could push profit margins down in world where big box retailers are already exerting influence on their bottomline. Consumers are waiting to see if Jeff Bezos and company can create an effective tackle buying experience.

Count FTR among the skeptical on the last bit. Tackle buying is often an intimate, educational experience. Online retailers like Tackle Warehouse and Tackle Addict have managed to carve significant niches in the field, but their websites are specifically geared towards hardcore anglers. Amazon, meanwhile, is geared towards fast shipping and low prices with a product spectrum built on search results.

According to Rigby, most people who shop on Amazon start and end with the search bar—they rarely, if ever, even bother to use the tabs on the website’s lefthand side. Likewise, few transition to the second page of search results. As Rigby put it, they simply try again with a new combination of keywords.

For tackle buyers, that means you’ve got to know what you’re looking for to buy from Amazon. And that’s not an approach that benefits novice and intermediate anglers who don’t necessarily know what tackle they need.

So, the $430 billion behemoth has a mountain to climb if it wants to conquer the future of fishing. Right now, their user interface simply isn’t fisherman friendly.

Where many retailers feel threatened by Amazon, though, is in the shop and drop world, where brick and mortar stores see themselves becoming a browsing space for new gear. In that scenario, customers would simply find what they like in a local retail outlet and order the product—for less—on Amazon.

That is a very real concern.

Already, most Amazon products can be delivered in two days or less. With an armada of autonomous delivery drones on the horizon, many cities could see that delivery time cut down to minutes.

Amazon is Aggressive

Since 2001, the company has relied on a plan of “relentlessly lowering prices” as a pillar of operations. That mantra is driven in part by paranoia, not of competitors, but of shifting consumer trends, and it means that Amazon is okay taking a smaller profit margin on some items if it believes the price point will drive more consumers into its overall ecosystem.

Tackle manufacturers and retailers, then, must ask themselves how Amazon sees anglers. Chances are, they’re not looking at anglers as just a bass fisherman or a trout enthusiast. They’re looking at those customers as parents who need groceries, household goods, and entertainment for their kids. Or, they’re not only seeing a hot shot college tournament pro, but also a young adult entering a period of freshly gained disposable income.

Just how much of that pie Amazon is willing to pursue could theoretically affect their prices on tackle products.

That approach is not unlike Wal-Mart, who relies on pharmaceuticals to bring return shoppers into their own ecosystem.

You Can Fight Back

Amazon is an invader. As an independent retailer, you might not have better equipment, more manpower, or deeper pockets than Silicon Valley; but you do have home field advantage. Independent retailers hoping to stave off Amazon are fully capable of waging a guerrilla campaign against Jeff Bezos.

For now, you’ve got the customer base. You’ve got the local product knowledge, and you’ve got the ability to brand yourself as a fishing tackle specialist—not a catch-all store for books, baby clothes, and bait.

Still, many of you are doing a poor job of activating your customer base online. I know this because I see your websites. Almost universally, they are outdated, unfriendly, and ineffective tools for educating and selling to the same customers that walk through your doors each week.

If you want to wage a war against Amazon, you’ve got to bolster your defenses. Already, the time is too late to get ahead. But, you can shore up the walls if you take steps to modernize your website, create incentives for customers to join an email marketing list, and deliver educational tips to them, along with deals that encourage them to be a part of your team.

Like it or not, we’re all going to shop at Amazon. The question is, will we all buy tackle from them, too? Will you sit idly by with an army on your doorstep, or will you stand up and fight?

The beach of brick-and-mortar retail is no longer safe to surf.