While there perhaps are few things that can live up to their hype, Cyber Monday is a rare exception.
With e-commerce sales on the Monday following Thanksgiving weekend topping $1 billion last year, Matt Winn, social media manager for Volusion, a provider of shopping cart software for online sites, said it is critical that small businesses are prepared this year to compete with larger, well-known retailers.
"This is the biggest day of the year in e-commerce sales," Winn told BusinessNewsDaily. "It is a really, really important day."
Started in 2005, Cyber Monday was coined based on the belief that online sales would increase the Monday following Thanksgiving as consumers made purchases at work in an effort to take advantage of faster Internet speeds and holiday sales.
Since its inception, retailers have seen a sharp increase each year in the amount of money consumers spend on Cyber Monday . E-commerce sales totaled $484 million in its first year and nearly doubled to $887 million just five years later, according to Volusion.
With so much money up for grabs — the five-day Thanksgiving weekend, which includes Black Friday , saw a combined $2.5 billion in sales last year — it's important that small business owners make certain to stake their claim to some of it, Winn said.
"You get one giant sales weekend of year," he said. "So, go big or go home."
While large retailers may seem imposing to small businesses on such mega-retail days, experts agree there are plenty of ways to take on the big guys.
Sarah Schager, Internet marketing strategist for Vertical Measures, said the use of search engine optimization and social media offers easy opportunities for small business to compete with their larger counterparts.
"Properly optimized websites can, and do, outrank the larger sites every day," Schager, whose company provides Internet marketing services, said. "With a large enough network, the little fish absolutely can swim with the big fish."
A sure way to attract Cyber Monday customers is to give them a deal they can't refuse, according to Taylor Holiday, director of strategy for digital agency Lucid Fusion.
He suggests small businesses be creative and generous with their promotions in an effort to attract smart consumers.
"They’re going to hunt for the best value and most aggressive discounts," Holiday said.
"Competition is fierce and you want your deal to be so attractive that people can’t help but talk about it."
Another key to keeping up with larger retails could lie in small business' inboxes.
"They need to start sending emails more often," Winn said. "They are going to be on the top of (consumers') minds that way."
Large retailers send customers an average of 17 emails a month, Winn said, adding small businesses should follow suit.
Since the first thing customers see in their inbox is an email’s subject line, Winn also said it's critical that those few words grab consumers.
He recommends including the phrase “Cyber Monday" and highlighting specific discounts to avoid getting lost in the email clutter and boost the chances of customers actually opening the note.
Winn also advises small businesses to make sure their website looks clean and fresh and ensure the site is ready for the potential onslaught of consumers that may race there for deals.
"First impressions are critical, especially for smaller players," he said.
Jeune Ortiz, vice president of marketing and creative director for Web developer future-ink, advises that rather than link promotions to their homepage, small businesses should create a special landing page specifically for Cyber Monday offer in order to minimize distractions.
"It allows you to remove conflicting information," Ortiz said. "Anything that takes (the customer) away from the promotion is the potential for a loss of sale."
Additionally, the first page a consumer sees, whether it is the homepage or a landing page, must instantly provide personalized, relevant content, Winn said.
He encourages small businesses to highlight featured and popular products that consumers may be waning, and use prime website real estate to announce any special Cyber Monday discounts, offers or promotions .
"Shoppers are looking for specific items and specific deals, so you need to point them in the right direction," Winn said.
He also suggests compressing or scaling down large graphics to decrease the amount of time it takes for the site to load.
"If they have to wait, people are going to leave and go straight to Amazon or eBay," he said.
With recent surveys showing an expected increase in the amount of Cyber Monday consumers doing their shopping by smartphones and tablets, Ortiz said it is also important for small businesses to have a mobile presence, either through a specially designed app or mobile website .
"Small businesses need to be able to compete on that platform as well," Ortiz said.
Finally, business owners should take steps to ensure a return trip from shoppers who may be visiting their website for the first time on Cyber Monday.
Schager suggests small retailers have an online form that collects customers' email addresses upon checkout, allowing them to be contacted again regarding future sales and promotions.
"Following up with customers is vital to building your brand," she said. "A one-time sale is great, but a lifelong customer is better."
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