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Smaller Online Retailers Seem Immune to the Holiday Frenzy Christmas sales are significant online but smaller sites unable to compete with either big box stores or Amazon are focused on the basics.

By Matt Winn Edited by Dan Bova

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.


The 2014 holidays are shaping up to be a frantic period for online retailers. Between a shortened selling season (only 26 days between Thanksgiving and Christmas) and what's projected to be the most lucrative period in ecommerce history, the coming weeks will be fast-paced, to say the least. But how are small business owners approaching the holiday race, especially when up against mega-retailers like Amazon?

The answer is simple: they're sticking to the basics.

Related: 5 Ways Your Small Businesses Can Topple Amazon This Holiday Season

Holiday strategy -- focus on conversion

Findings from a recent holiday readiness report by Volusion indicate that small- to medium-sized businesses (SMBs) aren't looking to get overly complicated with their holiday offers online, instead opting to utilize basic, proven discounts and promotions.

For online merchants who sold during the 2013 holiday season, when asked which types of discounts were most effective, 48 percent indicated that "limited time sales and discounts" drove the highest conversions, with "free shipping" ranking second at 39 percent.

Specific to increasing conversions, smaller merchants are again focusing on core tactics, including a clean website design, a simplified checkout process and offering discounts. When asked their most important strategy for ensuring customers complete their online purchase, the top four results included:

  1. Streamlining the checkout process (26 percent)
  2. Offering shipping discounts (23 percent)
  3. Retargeting shoppers with personalized emails (18 percent)
  4. Providing personalized deals and offers (15 percent)

This emphasis on the essentials demonstrates that smaller retailers are ignoring gimmicky merchandising strategies, instead opting to invest their time and budget into the pillars that make a successful ecommerce site.

Related: How to Compete with the Big Chains? Think Locally

Looking beyond Black Friday and Cyber Monday

The most notorious shopping frenzy takes place on major "shopping holidays," particularly Black Friday and Cyber Monday. Despite the growing hype around these well-known selling days, smaller retailers are adopting a much calmer approach, instead opting to build their holiday strategies for the long haul.

Overall, SMBs are restrained about Black Friday. When asked how important the day after Thanksgiving is to their overall holiday success, 2/3 of survey respondents deemed Black Friday as "Not at All" to "Somewhat Important." Smaller retailers are only slightly more enthusiastic about Cyber Monday, with 42 percent indicating that the Monday after Thanksgiving weekend is "Important" or "Very Important" to their holiday season.

While this lack of urgency around these mega-sales days may come as a surprise, for smaller businesses, there are three key variables that muffle the madness of Black Friday and Cyber Monday, including:

  • Although more holiday shopping transactions continue to shift from in-store to online, for smaller online pure-plays, Black Friday is still a phenomenon specific to physical retailers, meaning the holiday doesn't impact them as much.
  • Smaller marketing budgets prevent SMBs from effectively competing against larger retailers on these major selling days, as they'll be outspent and overlooked in light of the marketing efforts of big-box stores.
  • Competing on price is a major uphill battle for SMBs on Black Friday and Cyber Monday, as mega-retailers offer shoppers deep discounts that smaller retailers simply can't afford in order to remain profitable.

It's clear that smaller retailers are savvy enough to look past the clamor of the latest marketing tactics and focus on the bigger picture of achieving long-term holiday success. With the amount of hoopla that's set to shape the holiday season this year, this is a sound approach to making the most of what's expected to be the biggest selling period in ecommerce history.

Related: Why Wait Until Saturday? Small Businesses Seek Black Friday Buzz

Matt Winn

Senior Marketing Communications Manager

Matt Winn is Volusion's Marketing Communications Manager, where he helps oversee the organization's branding and communications efforts. Matt has created hundreds of articles, videos and seminars on all things ecommerce, ranging from online marketing to web design and customer experience.

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