How Small Businesses Can Conquer E-Commerce for the Holidays

Small businesses, which are typically brick-and-mortars with less time and money to invest in digital sales, are facing even greater challenges than big-box retailers during this holiday season as Covid-19 pushes shopping online.

Nick Maglosky, VP, general manager, at Endurance Group, which owns Constant Contact, let Street Fight know how small businesses can succeed despite an unusually tough fall and winter.

Many of us think of small businesses as not necessarily maintaining aggressive e-commerce strategies. How much has that changed since Covid?

Covid-19 has certainly pushed small businesses to focus more on e-commerce strategies than ever before, but it’s actually an area we’ve seen them increasingly prioritize for some time now. The pandemic didn’t cause the digital pivot that we’re living through today. It only accelerated it — and what had previously been incremental forays into e-commerce all of a sudden became more urgent when the pandemic hit. 

An important realization for many small business leaders this year, whether they already had an e-commerce store or not, has been how easy it is to get started selling online. Enabling digital sales has never been more achievable than it is right now, and one thing we’ve tried to do at Constant Contact is show small businesses how quickly they can build and customize an online store. 

While there are certainly large retail platforms that they can (and in many cases, should) take advantage of, building and managing a store on their own website allows them to create an online experience that fits their brand identity and make it easier for users to purchase their products. As the pandemic continues, we’re seeing more and more small businesses not just getting online, but selling online too.

How critical will e-commerce be for small businesses during the holidays?

This is going to be a holiday season unlike any we’ve ever seen. The shift to e-commerce is accelerating a much faster pace due to Covid, and it’s not going away. In fact, eMarketer projects that e-commerce will make up 14.5% of total retail sales in 2020, which would be an all-time high in terms of growth. 

On top of that, we know that as the pandemic continues consumers are shifting their expectations of brands as well. They don’t just want coupons in their email anymore, they expect an intuitive browsing and checkout process, accurate inventory and out-of-stock notifications, curbside delivery, and fast shipping. E-commerce is already a must-have, and small businesses who understand this and take steps to offer their customers a way to buy online will create a memorable experience, more long-term loyalty, and ultimately more sales this holiday season.

What strategies should small businesses adopt to succeed at e-commerce in the next few months?

Your website is your new storefront, and it must provide the same level of experience to shoppers as a brick-and-mortar store. The first thing I’d recommend to small business leaders is to spend the time updating your website on a regular basis. A simple, intuitive layout with clear navigation and clutter-free product pages provide the useful information potential buyers need to make a decision, and clear calls-to-action make purchasing simple. It may seem obvious, but the more steps you can remove from the buying process, the more you increase the likelihood that users will make a purchase.

It’s also important to make sure that your inventory is updated across all the channels you’re selling on. So often this year we’ve seen products like cleaning supplies or hand sanitizer go out-of-stock from our favorite retailers both online and in-stores, and yet that’s not always communicated to the customer — which can lead to a frustrating experience. Accurate inventory forecasting is crucial to the success of your e-commerce business. Do everything you can to forecast correctly, anticipate demand and avoid dead stock at the end of the year, especially for seasonal products.

It’s also important to consider how people shop in 2020 — it’s estimated that mobile purchases make up about 45% of all online shopping. Small businesses can anticipate sales coming from mobile devices this holiday season, so optimizing your site’s experience to allow for easy browsing regardless of the channel, device, or platform someone may be using is an easy way to ensure you aren’t leaving sales on the table. A mobile-responsive website also comes with tons of perks beyond just revenue. You’ll likely see faster load times, lower bounce rates, and higher conversion rates. Visitors will spend more time on your website, and it will even increase your site’s SEO, making you more findable on search engines like Google. 

Lastly, I’d recommend small business leaders work to identify the channels that make the most sense for their specific business and do them well. Your e-commerce strategy will only be successful if you put as much time into it as your other marketing and sales strategies. Take the time to learn whether your customer prefers email communication or social media ads, then tailor your marketing to those segments. E-commerce can be integrated into existing marketing channels to help turn fans into customers.

Amazon moved Prime Day back to October this year. Is Prime Day big for small businesses? How much of a role does Amazon play in the e-commerce biz of small businesses? How can small businesses capitalize on Amazon this year?

Amazon is a clear giant in the e-commerce space, and it does play a critical role as a marketplace for small businesses selling online. Still, just like any other strategy, it’s best not to pin all your success on one sales or distribution channel. 

There is certainly a place for small businesses to sell well on Amazon, but ultimately Amazon should be a single component of an overall e-commerce strategy, not the only option. Building your own e-commerce store on your company’s website allows you to have complete control over what you’re selling, how orders and inventory are being processed, and gives you complete transparency into how your store is performing at any given time. 

Other options, like Etsy, offer an intuitive marketplace where shoppers often seek out small businesses to buy from, especially around the holidays. A successful e-commerce strategy makes use of multiple channels and platforms to help the brand reach its audience wherever they may be shopping.

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Joe Zappa is the Managing Editor of Street Fight. He joined Street Fight as a contributing writer in 2015, has compiled the daily newsletter since 2016, and has spearheaded the newsroom's editorial operations since 2018. Shoot him an email at jzappa@streetfightmag.com.