CONTRIBUTOR
Contributing Writer,
Techstrong Group

There is a lot of money to be had during the busy shopping days of Black Friday and Cyber Monday (BFCM) for retailers of all sizes. Over the course of those days, shoppers will spend an average of $567, up 13% year-over-year, according to business consultancy Deloitte.

Some of that will be due to the higher cost of some items, but it’s money that will be passed from the buyer to the store. Eight in 10 people are planning to shop during this period.

However, even the larger online giants have to keep their customers in mind as they compete over these few days, and for many that means making sure the online experience is good, particularly when customers are searching their sites. Ecommerce platform provider Nosto estimates that retailers in North America could lose as much as $13.8 billion due to poor search experiences.

The margin of error for smaller retailers is slimmer, according to Mikel Lindsaar, founder and CEO of StoreConnect, a five-year-old company that’s built atop Salesforce and integrates into the SaaS provider’s platform. StoreConnect offers SMBs a single place to run their entire business, using StoreConnect for such functions as their website, ecommerce and digital engagement, with all the information living in Salesforce.

“The idea is to have one completely integrated system doing all the functions of ecommerce, point-of-sale and customer relationship management, make it flexible, make it so customers are treated like individuals, and that a company can run online commerce efficiently and effectively,” Lindsaar told Digital CXO.

Streamlined Tech is a Must

Right now, smaller retailers have myriad solutions tacked together trying to solve a fraction of the ecommerce puzzle, he said. A more integrated environment allows an SMB to “focus on serving the customer because the technology will support the company in providing personal service to any customer that the SMB chooses to target, wherever they are,” the CEO said.

Such a simplified and streamline solution is important for SMBs as they enter into the holiday shopping season. They can compete with the Amazons and Walmarts of the world, but it’s not easy, he said. They can provide personal service to customers that the larger online-only sites can’t and are better at operating in a market niche.

However, they don’t have the resources the larger chains do, can’t compete on prices, free shipping, or returns; and their online sites can be as impersonal as the bigger stores.’

“It is becoming harder and harder for SMBs to keep up if they try to stick with the existing technologies,” he said. “SMBs that only operate a physical store will always have the potential advantage of personal service, but this is coupled with the disadvantage of people not being able to find you when they need you. In the current retail landscape, you really need to be both ‘local’ and ‘online’ and working out how to do this is the challenge faced by SMBs.”

Lots of Business, Fewer Resources

The rush of business that comes with Black Friday and Cyber Monday is particularly difficult for SMBs, which don’t have the resources, systems, or even security to handle the increase in web traffic and sales, Lindsaar said. In addition, most have 20 to 30 different software systems running their business, with each one expected to fix a part of the problem.

In addition, many are unprepared when it comes to technology, with multiple systems trying to operate as a holistic one.

“The truth is the SMB is throwing its most expensive resource – staff – at the problem of making computer systems talk to each other, and as we tell our clients, paying people to help computers talk to computers is an incredible waste of money,” he said.

These issues should be considered sometime after the next six weeks or so. On the cusp of Black Friday and Cyber Monday – not to mention the ongoing shopping that will happen up to Christmas and the returns and exchanges in the weeks after that – is not the time to make wholesale changes. Anything drastic would be “recipe for disaster,” according to Lindsaar.

Steps That Can Still Be Taken

That said, there are a few things SMBs can still do to prepare, including making sure there is someone to help with IT issues. Downtime could crater a SMB’s business and they “don’t want to be hunting around for someone to help fix something in the middle of a rush of customers,” he said.

Get the staff extra training for handling transactions, such as how to create a refund or to look up an old product, and write a diagram of existing systems that say what information is where and which systems talk to each other. Also, make sure to hand in all administrator and log-in credentials so they’re not missing when needed.

SMBs also can “get some sort of marketing email out to your VIP customers, let them know that they are valued customers and so don’t have to make their transaction on Black Friday or Cyber Monday,” Lindsaar said. “Perhaps they can get in earlier or after the rush to help spread the load across the whole week.”

In the end, retaining customers can be even more important that finding new ones. The cost of acquiring new customers on average is five times higher than retaining existing ones and growing customer retention by 5% can increase profits by as much as 95%, according to StoreConnect. It’s not an easy task to accomplish. A third of shoppers will abandon a brand they once valued after a single bad experience, he said.

It’s on opportunity for SMBs that can provide a good customer experience.

“SMBs really need to keep at the front of their mind that every single communication and transaction with a customer is a chance to leave a good or a bad impression, and then do everything they can to leave a good impression,” he said.