Online retailers hustle on Small Business Saturday

For small companies, Thanksgiving weekend is one of the few times they don’t have to swim upstream to compete with big box retailers. But they still can’t lose their hustle.

It’s the most critical time of the year when the trifecta of Black Friday, Small Business Saturday, and Cyber Monday could make or break a small business that’s in the red.

In an ideal world, shoppers would dabble in a bit of everything—do some preliminary shopping on Friday, support mom-and-pop shops on Saturday and then go home Sunday night to load their virtual shopping carts and be ready to click submit on Monday.

But that doesn’t always happen.

Traditionally, small businesses have thought the best chance at snagging shoppers over Thanksgiving is to take their show on the road. They appear at holiday markets and boutiques and try to reel in every customer they see in one go. But given that brick and mortar businesses are rerouting customers to their websites, small businesses are rethinking their strategies, too.

Katie Bartels, owner and designer of Katie Bartels Jewelry in Brooklyn, says last year she held a trunk show in a boutique over Thanksgiving weekend. It was her first time participating in Small Business Saturday. The WeWork Dumbo member recalls it wasn’t as successful as she hoped it would be simply because she had three hours to turn a profit.

“For me it wasn’t terribly profitable because it was in person and so much traffic is already driven online,” Bartels says. “I put everything up on Twitter and my blog and used my social media networks to get traffic to the store, but it was still a hard weekend.”

This year, she plans to ditch the trunk show and do everything online. That means advertising discounts on social media that will be valid through Black Friday and Cyber Monday. She intends to use #SmallBusinessSaturday along with other relevant hashtags to drive traffic to her web. She wants to bear in mind one thing: not overdoing hashtags.

“When I’m on social media, and I see business owners use 10 or 15 hashtags, it looks overwhelming and too forced,” Bartels says. “I’ll do a hashtag with the name of my collection that’s tailored towards me, but nothing more narrow than that,” Bartels says.

Ahead of Small Business Saturday, Bartels says she’s up against the clock. She must complete 225 jewelry orders before Thanksgiving. With five online stores and seven boutiques depending on her handmade goods, she knows it’s important to stay on top of production.

“I’m struggling to keep up with the orders, and I need every moment I can get,” Bartels says. “But currently, I’m stuck on a train in Delaware, and I need to make sure these orders get to a retailer before Black Friday. I had issues with the laser cutter and things were held up in customs, but I’ve done every part of the process I can do in advance.”

For other entrepreneurs, they’ve gone the holiday market route to see if foot traffic is higher in clustered areas. Last year, Ashley Smith, founder and designer of Otherworld Apparel, set up shop at multiple holiday markets for Small Business Saturday. The WeWork Soho West member noticed a major problem: she could only be in one place at a time. The chance of retaining customers was small, whereas online there would be many opportunities to engage with the same people over an extended period of time.

This year, she’s not counting on foot traffic at holiday markets. She’s pushing for more web traffic.

“If you do the prep work of getting qualified traffic to your site before the sale and get customers to sign up for your email list, you generally know how many people will see your sale via your email channels,” Smith says. “You’re not doing too much guesswork.”

Ahead of Small Business Saturday, Anna Louise Jiongco, photographer and founder, has revamped her website. With the help of her artists, stylists, videographers and assistants, the WeWork Soho West member has created a sharp e-commerce site.

The key to navigating Small Business Saturday as an online retailer is to be mindful about where shoppers place their time and attention.

“Although a one-day sale does create an urgency to buy, you might be better off at least extending the sale into Sunday just to give people more time to get to your sale during an already busy weekend,” Smith says.

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