Training, Tips, And Advocacy At 3C

Oct. 15, 2023

WASHINGTON, D.C. – The Connected Commerce Council (3C for short) has managed to make quite an impact in a relatively short amount of time. In existence since 2018, the nonprofit organization works with digitally empowered small businesses to provide training, tips, and coaching (plus educational roundtables and webinars) through 3C University (3CU).

In today’s digitally-driven economy, nearly every small business uses digital tools and services to sell online, advertise, and reach customers online—or to manage back-office operations. “We have created a community where small businesses can come together, discuss issues facing their business, and share best practices for how to grow and succeed,” says Rob Retzlaff, executive director. “We also advocate for digitally empowered small businesses in Washington, DC, and state capitals.”

3C keeps small businesses up to date on important policy issues and helps them communicate priorities and concerns to policymakers. 3C will have a strong presence at Prosper 2024, where attendees can learn more about the multi-faceted mission of the organization. The Prosper Newsletter sat down with Retzlaff (pictured) to learn more about 3C and its goals, priorities, and plans.

Prosper: Please describe the process of working with online sellers.
Retzlaff: We are always looking to meet new small business owners, which is why we love attending Prosper. Our work with small sellers starts by listening to their stories. So many sellers have great stories about what motivated them to start a business and what they have done to find success.

From there, we explain how specific policy proposals might impact their business and then see what advocacy opportunities may work for them. For some, it is sharing their stories and perspectives with the media. For example, Joel Roodman and his wife run an all-natural beauty and hygiene products company. In Politico, a very influential DC publication, Joel was recently quoted about concerns with the FTC’s recent lawsuit against Amazon.

For others, it is helping them set up meetings with federal and state policymakers. For example, we met a fabulous small business owner in Connecticut who has been selling on Amazon for years. He wanted to do whatever it took to prevent harmful regulations that would make it harder and more expensive to sell on Amazon. So, we arranged a meeting with his state Attorney General, where he shared his story and concerns about the regulations they’re looking to place on Amazon.

Prosper: Why did you decide to exhibit at Prosper?
Retzlaff: First, the programming is unparalleled. While attending our first show in Vegas, my colleague and I gained new insights, heard new perspectives, and left with so many ideas. Second, Prosper brings thought leaders, innovative service providers, and top sellers from all over the country under one roof. Also, it’s a lot of fun. It was a no-brainer for us at 3C.

Prosper: For online sellers who want to get more involved on the advocacy side, what is the biggest misconception?
Retzlaff: The biggest misconception is that their advocacy won’t make a difference, but that couldn’t be further from the truth. We’ve helped thousands of small businesses share their stories with lawmakers, and lawmakers care very deeply about what business owners and job creators think about important issues. However, lawmakers don’t know what their constituents want unless those constituents get involved and engage with their lawmakers. The more small business owners stand up for their businesses and small businesses nationwide, the more change we can make and the better we can help protect the digital tools that help small businesses succeed.

Prosper: What would you say to sellers who are on the fence about getting involved?
Retzlaff: I would say that no one knows, or can stand up for your business, better than you can. Policymakers are often unaware of the intended consequences of new laws or regulations and legitimately do not want to hurt small businesses. But they don’t know unless you tell them. Do you want to spend more money on advertising? Are you comfortable with online marketplaces becoming harder to use? Do you want to track and comply with 50 different privacy laws?

Odds are the answer is no. So, the question is, why wouldn’t you stand up for your business? And you can start small. Reach out to us at 3C or join our email newsletter, and we will help educate you on the issues. We have a free small business advocacy toolkit to help get you started!

Connected Commerce Council in action – Washington, D.C. 

Prosper: How should online sellers be preparing for the holiday shopping season?
Retzlaff: We’ve got a blog post about that. Our #1 tip is to start thinking about the holidays early and get your ads ready. Selling during the holidays is all about standing out from the crowd. Ads will help you to find potential customers who are more likely to love what you offer and purchase it as a gift for themselves or a loved one. Digital ads featuring holiday specials can bring people to your website to make purchases and offer small businesses an affordable way to expand their customer base.

We also have some great free courses that will help you be more efficient during the holidays, whether engaging with customers or mastering Quickbooks—we highly recommend you spend some time listening to the amazing small business owners in our community and their tips for success.

Prosper: What is your reaction to the news that the FTC has filed an antitrust lawsuit against Amazon?
Retzlaff: The lawsuit was filled with misconceptions and false premises. It was shocking that after years of study, the FTC remains strikingly ignorant about how Amazon operates and the value it provides, particularly to small sellers and upstart brands. The Amazon store connects small business sellers to millions of customers worldwide, highlights great products for consumers without charging sellers promotional fees, and provides optional, extraordinarily affordable fulfillment and logistics services.

We hear consistently from a diverse range of small business owners that the Amazon store is helping their businesses grow, compete with larger brands, and succeed. The FTC’s mission to fundamentally change Amazon’s operations will decrease the value Amazon provides sellers and hurt small businesses nationwide.

The FTC has not consulted with Amazon sellers to understand their experience in the marketplace. Amazon does not require sellers to use Fulfillment by Amazon (FBA), and small sellers tell us that they frequently win the Featured Offer (formerly known as the ‘Buy Box’) regardless of whether they buy advertising or use FBA services, including when they are competing directly against products sold by Amazon. As has already happened several times this year, the judge hearing this case should end it mercifully and quickly by ruling against the FTC on summary judgment. That would be the best outcome for millions of consumers and small businesses.

Prosper: Why do in-person trade shows still have value?
Retzlaff: Connections formed at trade shows are incredibly valuable and can only be formed in person. So much of our lives are digitized these days, so getting together and having real conversations and forming real relationships, whether it’s with a new supplier, a consultant, or an advocacy organization like ours, has never been more important.

Rob Retzlaff is executive director at the Connected Commerce Council in Washington, D.C. where he is responsible for overseeing the administration, programming, and strategic outreach and operations of the organization.