U.S. e-commerce spend for the holiday season is predicted to hit $79.4 billion, reaching new heights, as consumers opt for the ease and luxury of online shopping. This form of gift purchase continues to show fierce growth in contrast to traditional physical sales. Growth in this industry is led by the biggest players and household names. Comscore has estimated that Amazon will lead this surge – with 20% of total e-commerce sales this period, followed by large spending through eBay and Walmart.

Cyber Monday’s total U.S. digital sales this year surpassed $3 billion. The biggest day for online spending to date saw a 10% increase in revenue against last year’s figures. Amazon generated an estimated 36.1% of total online sales. The e-commerce platform has not revealed actual spending levels, though noted that sales of its own devices tripled during the online shopping rush. Amazon offered a number of large discounts, which have been followed up with continued ‘Deals of the Day’ and ‘Lightening Specials’.

The top players that dominate the market benefit from the ability to provide huge price cuts and promotions, and the recognition as a go-to place for holiday shoppers. How can smaller e-commerce platforms differentiate themselves and compete in a world dominated by the big names?

We spoke to 5 startup leaders in this space, to discover their key learnings from this festive season – applicable all year round, when competing with the giants of e-commerce.

shopping experience

Provide A Shopping Experience

“Startups have an opportunity to compete with established ecommerce brands by creating a shopping

experience online vs. just being transactional.

With our company, we acknowledge that it’s difficult to compete on price so we rely on the style of our gift catalog, the stories of our makers and our “Gift of Choice” option as distinguishing factors of our business. Since our service allows gift recipients to choose what they want, we have a natural differentiator. Our customers don’t have to pick out one specific gift for their friends and family.”

  • Sara Rodell, Loop&Tie

Improved Mobile Offerings

“While user time spent on mobile is all the talk, the reality is that m-commerce sales are still well below online e-commerce. Startups need to focus on improving the mobile commerce experience, to make it as simple as shopping on desktop. For example, larger images of products, easy navigation, a simple checkout and payment process and personalization will all contribute to increased purchases on mobile.”

  • Bob Pack, ShopJester

mobile ecommerce

Keep An Eye On The Competition

One of the best ways to compete in this holiday season is be religious about checking what the competition is doing. You have to monitor things like competitor prices, shipping policy, coupons etc, and always try to give an offering that is beating your competitors.

When it comes to the big giants like Amazon and eBay the best strategy is to provide something that they can’t. This could be something such as creating amazing content, tailored to your customers, with product presentations – celebrating your offering. Websites like Amazon and eBay do not provide the level of customer service that a smaller business can. Try to provide a human, personalized service that is unbeatable.

At Searchub we try to monitor our bounce rate and improve our UX to match the holiday season. We increase our efforts in SEO and content marketing. Take a look at your platform infrastructure and make sure that it will be able to handle the increased traffic from the holiday season.”

  • Ali Benmoussa, Searchub

prepare and share

Prepare And Share

“Cyber Monday has always worked really well for us. We prepare by sharing posts on social channels the day. We see this as a priority – even if it risks slowing sales the preceding day. If you decide not to have a discount on Black Friday – send out a newsletter and announce on social channels any upcoming Cyber Monday promotions.

Run discounts and promotions just for that day, to attract more people. Reach out to discount sites such as cybermonday.com for possible partnership or affiliate programs – announcements on these websites are a great plus to generate more traffic for you. This can require getting in contact with these sites up to three months in advance. Reach out to download websites and ask them to announce your promotion in their Cyber Monday newsletter, or on their website.

Get everybody to share the news – your alpha testers, brand ambassadors, any and every partner and team member, even your Grandma – sharing the promotion on social channels, if possible more than just once. Reach out to bargain, discount and special deal twitter groups on the day of your promotion, and try to create something new and catchy. A funny or engaging video – something that grabs attention, and also shows your current and prospective users that there are people behind the scenes. That’s one of the main ways you can differentiate yourself from the giants, make it personal and show them who is behind the product.

What did we learn – it pays to plan, well in advance, particularly with partner sites. Try to piggy-back partner promotion deals, and offer even better package deals. We are still experimenting with what really helps us drive sales during that time. We have since tried one hour promotions, offering 50% to every new user – after realizing how well the Cyber Monday promotion worked for us. We are also trying to implement new seasonal features, rather than just discounting. Keeping it personal and showing the people behind the product always works well.”

  • Christin Baumgarten, Mailbird

Analyse Your Results, For Smart Time-Sensitive Promotions

“We recently conducted a webinar on the effects of search marketing from this holiday season. We analyzed our search traffic on Cyber Monday, over a six hour period – we found that most impressions and clicks happened between 6am-12am, but the highest number of orders actually took place between 6pm-12pm that night. We recommend eCommerce retailers to cater any paid search campaigns to these consumer shopper behaviors.

Some tips for increasing your sales this season include –

  • Test time sensitive special promotions, especially between 6pm-12pm to boost sales in the run up to Christmas.
  • As we get closer to the end of December applying local search marketing strategies can also help to win last minute shoppers.

We have used these tactics in enticing customers this Christmas period, and have seen exceptional growth through this. A business search strategy should also extend to mobile. Mobile search intents are different – incentivize users with special offers. Build a website for mobile and define a specific mobile strategy. Perform search term analysis specifically for mobile. Design mobile only call-to-actions in the ap copies. Enable ad extensions that perform better on mobile, and use automated programmatic solutions in real-time to refine your campaign.”

  • Kelly Rafalski, NetElixir

Emma Rosser is a Staff Writer at Publicize, which is a startup aiming to change the way companies approach PR.  Publicize has worked with a dozen+ Y Combinator startups and leading brands such as Hallmark Cards.