Black Friday, falling on November 28, and Cyber Monday (December 1) are dates etched on the minds of all retailers; but how are smaller e-commerce businesses preparing for this major shopping season, and how can these businesses capitalize on a retail holiday traditionally celebrated by big box retailers?
Consider the numbers for a moment. According to an article published in Business2Community, U.S. sales on Cyber Monday reached $2.29 billion for 2013, compared to $1.5 billion for the previous year. Shoppers are expected to spend 44 percent of their shopping time online in 2014, which is also up from 2013.
The good news is more people are shopping online, but that can also be intimidating for smaller e-commerce sites competing against the major online retail giants like Amazon and Overstock.com.
By considering a few tips and helpful ideas, these smaller e-commerce sites cannot only survive but also thrive during this holiday season.
Use “out-of-the box” marketing tactics
Travis Marziani, co-owner of e-commerce sites like BDancewear.com, was able to transform his idea into a successful e-commerce site in just under two years with some of what he calls “out-of-box marketing tactics.” Marketing tactics are absolutely essential for any smaller business, but especially for e-commerce sites during busy shopping seasons.
One of the strategies Marziani swears by for his own e-commerce site is including a blog with the sole purpose of highlighting his target customer base. In his case, this would be dance studios. By contacting various dance studios to interview and highlight on his site, they drive business to his site by advertising his website to their own customers. Essentially, it’s free advertising on both ends, and both Marziani’s e-commerce site and the dance studio benefit.
Other e-commerce sites can take advantage of this tactic by first identifying their target customer base and offering them helpful and valuable information. If you can provide a valuable service free of charge via your e-commerce website, more customers will visit the site or refer friends. Black Friday/Cyber Monday is the perfect time to do this. Consumers are already flooded with coupons, so why not offer something unique that will put your e-commerce site on their radar?
Showcase your originality
While many consumers may just be looking for the least expensive deal, Black Friday and Cyber Monday is the perfect weekend to showcase and expose what makes your e-commerce site attractive. Marziani argues that instead of offering insane discounts, if you want to participate in the shopping holidays like Black Friday or Cyber Monday, consider using the holiday as a way to launch new products.
Many smaller e-commerce businesses have products that customers cannot find anywhere else. In this case, the big-box retailers cannot compete with you. Take advantage of the unique products that you offer and capitalize on setting yourself apart instead of trying to keep up. By positioning your business as a specialty retailer, you gain legitimacy and credibility.
Use shipping to your advantage
When you have sites such as Amazon delivering seven days a week, and offering free two-day shipping for their Prime members, the competition is stiff. It would be ideal if lesser-known e-commerce sites could make these same guarantees and offers, but many cannot.
Terry Lin, e-commerce expert and co-owner of BuildMyOnlineStore, recognizes the “challenge is for merchants that don’t sell unique products that they manufacture themselves, because everyone else can list and sell the same product competing for the ‘buy-box’ on Amazon,” which then equates to a price war.
But instead of competing in the Amazon price war arena, e-commerce sites can instead focus on faithfully fulfilling shipments, even in the busiest of times. By staying true to what you promise as an online retailer, managing orders efficiently and effectively, you can ensure happy customers, and increase chances of return business.
If you want to offer customers a “deal” with shipping, consider setting a threshold. For example, if customers spend $25 or more, they can get free shipping, which makes them feel like they are getting a deal and encourages them to buy just a little more to meet that mark.
Connect with your customers on a personal level
One of the most valuable options smaller e-commerce sites have is the ability to reach their customer base on a more personal level, something big online retailers like Amazon rarely do.
At the end of the day, your customers should be top-of-mind, beyond discounts and price cuts. The return customer is priceless. Rion Martin, Marketing Director at Infegy, mentions the importance of the customer in a recent article where he reminds e-commerce businesses to “ensure that your e-commerce site offers an optimal experience and delivers on the measures online retailers are rated on. Begin your touch points early but avoid overly aggressive campaigns that burn out your target consumers.”
Black Friday or Cyber Monday burnout is a reality for many consumers, finding that balance and striking it is essential; maintaining current customers and bringing in new ones. Use your ability to personally connect with customers to your advantage and don’t turn to the dark side when the holiday season begins by flooding their inboxes with generic and frequent emails.
Smaller e-commerce sites can definitely take advantage of their niche customer base by honoring customers with specialized customer service that cannot be found with major retailers. People don’t just pay money for the product; they pay for the experience, for the feeling, notes Marziani. That alone can make you stand out as a smaller e-commerce player, even in the midst of the holiday craze. While some people may be fine with impersonal and inexpensive, others seek to be treated like a person, and not a number.
Don’t go discount crazy and compromise your customers
As you should know by now, Black Friday and Cyber Monday is not the time to harass your customers with excessive mailers and repetitive emails. Smaller e-commerce sites usually cannot and should not try to compete on price with huge retailers like Walmart and Amazon, so resist the temptation.
Lin states that while it may be easy to take advantage of the holiday buying craze by touting big discounts, “attention and trust are the truly valuable currencies that are harder to acquire, but scale easier over the long-term.” So, while discounts may reel in sales, what matters most at the end of the holiday shopping season is to ability to “identify, nurture, and convert customers year-round instead of viewing it as a one-time deal.”
In order to achieve this goal, finetune your strategy and planning throughout the year, and especially during major holiday shopping times. The bottom line: don’t let the discount craze get the best of you, where you end up compromising your customer base or values as a business.
Flickr photo via user Diario Critico Venezuela