Central Illinois is known for commodities and livestock, but from a laptop in Bloomington, I’ve built a successful luggage brand — thanks to my partners at Amazon.
Founder, Inspire Travel Luggage, Board Member, Connected Commerce Council Small Business Advisory
My goal was to design and sell great products, and to be honest, online retail wasn’t my first choice. However, Amazon made it so easy to launch and grow that my business model changed completely. Yet, while I’m building my business on Amazon, it seems Congress is trying to destroy the Amazon Marketplace that supports me and millions of entrepreneurs. That makes no sense.
When you live in the Midwest, you have to travel farther to get anywhere, and like many entrepreneurs, personal frustration led to an idea. As a frequent traveler, I wanted a leak-proof toiletry case that could hold full-size beauty products. Since I couldn’t find one that I liked, I put my fashion design education to work, created a prototype, and found a manufacturer. Then things got really exciting — and then really hard.
Walking among giants
During my first year in business, I went to trade shows, contacted retail buyers, and got certified as a woman-owned business. Nothing worked. Not a single significant retailer answered my emails. But instead of quitting, I pivoted to e-commerce and started selling on Amazon.
I was making sales within days. In 18 months, I’d sold thousands of toiletry cases, so I kept designing and testing new products. Amazon makes it easy and affordable to launch a new product, so even the smallest seller can compete with industry giants.
The Amazon Marketplace offers several things that help new and small sellers immeasurably. First, and most importantly, there are millions of consumers. Second, the Marketplace software presents my product to shoppers at the moment they are looking for it. Third, I get sophisticated and affordable warehousing and guaranteed delivery services, so customers are willing to take a risk on new brands like mine. Finally, I have direct relationships with customers and much more data than I would ever get from a traditional retailer with way less risk.
The future of retail
It’s appalling that Congress may force changes to the Amazon Marketplace. Some lawmakers take issue with Amazon hosting their own virtual “store shelves” while also selling their own competing products. However, Target, CVS, and Walmart do that also. Other lawmakers argue that Amazon is a platform that should not “self-preference” its affiliated products or services. But if Amazon cannot “self-preference” its own warehousing and Prime delivery systems, then it cannot guarantee on-time delivery for customers and sellers. Amazon’s affordable, integrated services help small brands be more efficient and more profitable. Congress should support that!
In many ways, Amazon Marketplace is the new Main Street for mom-and-pop brands, and sellers like me are the new faces of retail. If Congress bungles this legislation, big businesses like Away will be fine, but my brand will not. There are so many things lawmakers can do to address small business needs, but passing laws that harm the digital economy isn’t one of them. Congress needs to do better.