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Small online shops vie for post-Thanksgiving sales

The Monday after Thanksgiving promises to be one of the busiest days of the year for online retailers. SMBs need to be prepared for the surge if they want to compete with the big guys.

The brick-and-mortar businesses have the day after Thanksgiving. For online retailers, it's the first day back to work after the long holiday weekend.

Indeed, on, Monday, Nov. 27, Americans will do much of their holiday gift buying while at work, making it one of the busiest (and most profitable) online shopping days of the year, says Shop.org, a division of the National Retail Federation. By the end of the holiday season, it says, 61 million people will have shopped online while at work -- 9.3 million more than last year.

"Online retailers typically see huge surges in Web site traffic during traditional lunch hours," said Scott Silverman, executive director of Washington, D.C.-based Shop.org.

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Lisa Schneegans, an e-commerce expert at Waldorf, Germany-based SAP AG, said online holiday shopping has grown dramatically during the last few years. "People are becoming a lot more sophisticated and have higher expectations of online shopping."

Schneegans said smaller retailers can be far more competitive with big retailers when selling online than they can in traditional brick-and-mortar environments. "They can offer the same product for the same price. They can be competitive with price and selection, and customers won't even know what the difference is."

As long as they have enough bandwidth, small businesses can go head to head with the likes of Amazon and Target for online sales.

Richard Haugen, COO of New York-based Yak Pak, a manufacturer and distributor of bags and accessories, said he counts on tight integration among his retail Web site, warehouse and production facility to prepare for the upsurge in business.

"The biggest challenge is you have to make sure you have your inventory," said Haugen, whose company employs fewer than 400 people. "You need to have the ability to communicate with customers about what they can expect. You have to post it on the Web site -- what's the last day they can get something shipped. Nobody wants to get a Christmas present on Dec. 26."

Haugen said inventory listed on the Web site must be accurate. Customers get angry when they order something and then receive an email two days later that informs them their purchase is on back order.

For more than two years, Haugen has been using SAP's Business One technology to integrate his Web site with the rest of his business.

"With SAP I can manage what I have in my warehouse down to a single piece. That makes it very easy to update the Web site accordingly. I can literally look into what box is being packed with a handheld scanning system and I can see what orders are being shipped.

"With Business One, my production person in San Salvador can go in and say we're not going to make [a specific bag] anymore. She can take it off [the inventory] because it's unavailable. And it will be gone from the Web site within half an hour. We can react very quickly, and we don't have to have the Web team do it. We have one system that pushes all that information. When you have products that come in 25 different colors, colors come and go and it's hard to keep the site up to date."

Haugen said he also redesigns his Web site during the holiday season and the back-to-school season to highlight certain product categories and gift ideas.

He said SMB online retailers should also review their keyword advertising to make sure they can divert some traffic away from larger retailers. And they need to be prepared to handle an extra volume of customer support calls

Let us know what you think about the story; email: Shamus McGillicuddy, News Writer

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