NEW YORK (MainStreet) -- In case you didn't know, small businesses, Cyber Monday is quickly reaching the size and scope of Black Friday.
Shoppers are looking for 24-hour convenience, discounts such as free shipping and to avoid store crowds. A quick, efficient and discount-full online shopping experience is a must-have for retailers looking to capitalize on the official kickoff of the holiday shopping season.
According to a National Retail Federation survey, the average shopper plans to do about 36% of holiday shopping online this year, up from 32.7% percent last year.
Some retailers are seizing the opportunity by investing in new technologies, site and service features. According to the ninth annual eHoliday survey conducted by BIGresearch for the NRF's online channel, Shop.org, about 51% say they have significantly invested in mobile-optimized Web sites and another 19.6% in tablet device apps. Additionally, 35% invested in QR (quick-response) codes in offline advertising such as magazine ads and billboards.
Of those who use social media platforms regularly, 72% have invested in their Facebook pages and 41% in their Twitter accounts in advance of the holidays. All should ensure their sites are equipped to handle an increase in traffic.
Joe Silverman, CEO of New York Computer Help suggested the best ways for retailers to be prepared for Cyber Monday.
Why is it important for small businesses to have their e-commerce sites in top shape for Cyber Monday?
Silverman: There is so much competition, and anything in terms of a misspelling or a price that is not competitive can definitely deter the online consumer. Make sure the Web site is not too cluttered. Any time there is too much information it's really tough for the eye to be directed in a certain direction. Pinpoint four to six main products and really just market those, and the rest of them put them on another page or add another link.
What are three ways to prepare for a busy shopping day such as Cyber Monday?
Silverman: On the back end of the e-commerce site, definitely check in with your Web host provider to make sure there is enough bandwidth. The last thing you want is for Web site visitors to not be able to view your site.
You want to build up your social media. Makes sure before the event to send out [promotions] on Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn and other social sites to "invite" people to your Cyber Monday event.
Really read up on your competition in term of what's everybody else offering, what's hot, what the trends are and really put that out in front, such as Apple (Stock Quote: AAPL) iPhone accessories -- lead in with that.
What are common mistakes small businesses make with their e-commerce sites?
Silverman: If you look bigger than you are. [Some businesses] try to make it like they're a huge warehouse; sometimes you'll see false advertising, like they're all over the world. Then they put themselves in the ranks of Amazon (Stock Quote: AMZN) or Google (Stock Quote: GOOG) Checkout. You don't want to compete. Try to [tailor the site] to your local demographic so that way you could really have a niche. That's why my company is "New York Computer Help." A lot of people love small businesses. When they see a mom and pop or small company, they kind of feel more at ease versus some big company taking their money.
How do you avoid customers that drop off midsale?
Silverman: A huge turnoff in the buying process is if you have to put down a world of information -- that could definitely deter people from continuing. Just ask for main billing information. Also make sure that you put down if the product is in stock. That's huge. Companies should really have inventory tracking systems. The last thing you want is angry customers, of course.
You might get those annoying virtual person instant messages that come up to help. I think that's helpful 50% of the time. If you do have virtual chats, have somebody available. Don't just put it out there and not have somebody at home, so to speak.
OK, a small business has prepared for the unexpected. What to do if the site still crashes during the high-traffic day?
Silverman: First, call the Web host immediately. You likely need more bandwidth. In the meantime, if that happens you could take the extra step of creating a splash page that says something like 'We're busy taking care of customers. Please call this number if you get this page.' It takes a little time to create a secondary homepage, but at least you can save customers and have them still purchase through you possibly. But if Cyber Monday is that important to a company, it's something they could take care of for preventative maintenance.
Where are the biggest lessons in a day like Cyber Monday for small retailers?
Silverman: The day after, check on Google Analytics to see which pages people went to and to see where visitors were coming from. In terms of the drop-off rate, you could see where they left the site. From there e-commerce owners can know which pages to improve upon.