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Ken Chrisman

It’s been seven years since American Express introduced Small Business Saturday – a day to eschew Black Friday doorbuster deals and online discounts in favor of doing holiday shopping in-person at local businesses.

Consumers have responded positively to the shop local notion, with 112 million folks spending more than $15 billion during last year’s Small Business Saturday, according to American Express.

Every small business owner wants their piece of those billions, so it’s no surprise that a cottage industry of advice blogs, marketing tips, and B2B services are swooping in to help these businesses make the most of this special shopping event by offering customer events, VIP perks, social media promotion, email reminders, open houses, and more.

E-commerce solutions for small businesses

But what happens when the clock strikes midnight and Small Business Saturday becomes just another Sunday and consumer buying behaviors revert to business as usual? What do you do when the shopper who was thrilled to browse charming in-store displays goes back to toggling between online browser windows searching for the best price and fastest shipping options?

Somehow, independent businesses need to figure out how to attract a crowd on November 25 for Small Business Saturday, but more importantly, they’ve got to keep those customers coming in the door the other 364 days of the year, and that means getting smarter at competing in the e-commerce marketplace.

Going up against mega online retailers can be a daunting prospect for brick-and-mortar shops that can’t easily slash prices or eat the cost of free shipping, but being a little fish in the giant sea of online shopping can actually be a competitive advantage.

Here’s how.

Protect Your Most Valuable Assets

Small business owners are passionate about two things: their customers and their products. While bigger retailers play the game of large numbers – bringing in new customers and product SKUs and writing off others – small business owners are more committed to winning and keeping every customer they can get.

Half of all U.S. e-commerce customers have had a poor delivery experience from an online order and 70% percent of those say they’ll consider taking their business elsewhere the next time they shop, according to Sealed Air’s national survey.

For billion dollar corporations, maybe that can be considered the “cost of doing business” and they feel they can afford to lose a few unsatisfied customers in favor of volume or speed. But for small businesses, that tradeoff is unacceptable.

Meeting delivery expectations, ensuring that every item shipped is protected against theft and damage, and making it easy for customers to open, recycle, reuse, or dispose of the packaging in which the order is delivered – these might seem like common sense practices, but packaging is the last moment of truth for a retailer’s brand and these small changes can mean the difference between retaining customers or losing them forever.

Personalize the Delivery Experience

Big retailers struggle to make every e-commerce order feel personal. Little in-the-box touches such as gift wrapping, personalized messages, or samples entice return customers. These touches are known in the fulfillment business as “non-standards,” which means they require more laborious (aka more expensive and less efficient) processes, and many large-volume e-commerce operations opt not to do them (or don’t do them well).

But increasingly, this kind of customized attention is exactly what consumers expect. Luckily for small business owners, a commitment to personal touches is often a part of their DNA.

Bringing this philosophy into the world of e-commerce fulfillment is a way to instantly stand out from the crowd, and keep consumers coming back to shop online with you again – even if they have to pay a little bit more to do it.

Maximize the Efficiency of Every Inch and Every Hour with E-Commerce Solutions

Small businesses are called that for a reason – they tend to be small-footprint operations that don’t employ many people. That means that every square foot and every minute of paid labor are very valuable resources, and smart small business owners have learned to maximize these resources with exceptional attention and ingenuity.

Big e-commerce operations are dealing with these issues on a mega scale – labor availability and warehouse space are hitting record lows at a time when e-commerce shopping is on the rise.

Finding faster, smaller ways to get the same job done by fewer people has become a major challenge that Sealed Air has been helping large-scale businesses solve, and we’re encouraging these big companies to take cues from small businesses:

  • Invest in semi-automated e-commerce solutions such as inflatable air pillows that take up less space and free up room to add new products that will grow the business.

  • Redeploy workers to activities that will drive more value and make the low-value activities (such as assembling boxes or gift wrapping items by hand) faster and simpler.

  • Use one-step packaging material such as shipping mailers that can reduce shipping costs and eliminate packing peanuts, paper, and other bulky, time-consuming materials.

Avoid the Growth Spiral

Sealed Air works with lots of e-commerce retailers that have grown faster than expected. While that kind of explosive growth can be exciting, it can also create waste at an exponential rate.

Getting more orders out the door usually adds up to spending more on each box. Leaving too much empty space inside the box, using too much filler, and continuing inefficient labor practices are the kind of costly mistakes that many retailers face when online operations start to take off.

Getting control of those challenges early on, and scaling your operation at a speed that is profitable for you, but doesn’t sacrifice package protection or personal touches, is just one more way that small businesses can beat big businesses at their own game any day of the year.

For more on how the at-home delivery expectations of e-commerce customers are changing the game for retailers of all sizes, visit Sealed Air’s Expand Your Brand resource hub.