November 29, 2012, 5:14 PM

Small online retailers rack up big holiday sales

Heavy traffic slowed, and in one case crashed, sites of some larger merchants.

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Small local retailers in Northern Michigan who sell their wares online at ShopMyNorth.com have brought in 134% more revenue so far this month than in November 2011, says Rachel North, marketing director at MyNorth Media, which operates ShopMyNorth.com and sells its own MyNorth-branded apparel and accessories,.

In fact,  total sales for the site in November alone are already higher than sales for November or December of last year, North says.  Sales over the Thanksgiving holiday weekend increased 143% year over year, she says. Conversion rates have climbed over the course of the month. For example, conversion rates in the second week of November increased 33% over the first week

MyNorth Media plans to promote the site over the holidays with broadcast media ads and ShopMyNorth will offer further specials, such as a free Northern Michigan vacation guide for any shopper who spends more than $50, she says.

Other small retailers also experienced surging sales over the Thanksgiving holiday.

The roughly 30,000 small-and mid-size retailers selling on the Bigcommerce e-commerce platform together reeled in about 3,400 sales per second on average on Cyber Monday, Bigcommerce reports.

Meanwhile, the combined sales for the small and mid-size merchants using e-commerce platform CommerceV3  marked the biggest sales day ever for the vendor. The average number of orders per store increased 24% year over year and average revenue per store rose 30%, the vendor says.

“Last year was the first that Cyber Monday actually surpassed all other days of the year in terms of revenue for small merchants,” says Nathan Focht, president of CommerceV3. “But this year it’s grown even more and we processed about 20% more orders than we expected platform-wide.”

Meanwhile, Cyber Monday sales grew 10% compared to Black Friday for the 75,000 small e-retailers that use accounting software from vendor Outright, the company says. “This holiday weekend broke records in my Amazon store and it has continued into the week,” says Kathy Simpson, an Outright customer and owner of online shoes and accessories store Kat’s Kloset.

Though booming business throughout the Thanksgiving holiday was generally good news for online retailers, heavy traffic slowed down some retail sites. Teen apparel retailer Delia’s Inc., No. 198 in the Internet Retailer Top 500 Guide, and fitness retailer Jillian Michaels both sent e-mails this week offering customers extended Cyber Monday deals in apology for site issues. Neither retailer immediately responded to requests for comments.

Other retail web sites whose sites slowed on Cyber Monday include Urban Outfitters Inc., Office Depot Inc., BarnesandNoble.com Inc., The Home Depot Inc. and Toys ‘R’ Us Inc., according to web performance monitoring and optimization company Apica. All took around six seconds to load,  except Toys ‘R’ Us whose load time  hit 14.38 seconds, Apica says. Those retailers, expect for Office Deopt, did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

Office Depot says it did not experience any lags throughout what was record-setting traffic to OfficeDepot.com on Cyber Monday, as measured by web performance monitoring company Compuware Gomez. “OfficeDepot.com reported 100% availability and performance in line with industry standards,” says Carl Brisco, senior director of global e-commerce at Office Depot.

Of the 50 web sites Apica monitored, it says only L.L. Bean Inc. went down completely on Cyber Monday, for an hour at 10 p.m. Eastern, most likely because of a traffic jam, Apica says. “We did indeed experience a blip late Monday,” An L.L. Bean spokeswoman says. “ It was amazingly busy, and we got a little crushed. All was back to normal soon after.”

On the other end of the spectrum, home pages for Liberty Interactive Corp., which operates QVC, and Systemax Inc., which operates web stores including TigerDirect.com, both loaded on average in less than one second throughout the day, Apica says. Apple Inc., Avon Products Inc., Dell Inc., J.C. Penney Co. Inc., Sears Holdings Corp. and Symantec Corp. all kept site load times to less than two seconds on average.

J.C. Penney also ranked high in customer service for call response time, according to an analysis by mystery shopping company StellaService. Of the 25 large retailers it tracked from Black Friday to Cyber Monday, J.C. Penney connected customers to live agents by phone the fastest, in just 22 seconds on average compared with an average wait time of four minutes and 27 seconds for all the retailers over the four-day period.  Overstock.com Inc.’s live chat agents responded fastest, in 22 second on average.

Good customer service can go a long way for harried holiday shoppers who have many online stores to choose from. Social media analysis company NetBase is tracking consumers’ feelings towards 10 large retailers measured by the ratio of positive to negative comments on social networks for each retailer.  

For today, Old Navy led the way with the most positive and least negative comments. That was followed by Amazon.com Inc., Target Corp., Kohl’s Corp., The Home Depot Inc., Best Buy Co., Macy’s Inc., Toys ‘R’ Us Inc., Walmart.com and Sears Holdings Corp.

Kohl’s had the top score most often between Nov. 19 and 27. "Consumers were raving about the great deals they can find there and how the prices just keep getting better,” says Lisa Joy Rosner, NetBase chief marketing officer.

On Thanksgiving, Macy’s was first; on Black Friday, Home Depot and on Cyber Monday, Amazon, Netbase says. Macy's appears to have benefitted in its ranking from cheerful chatter about the annual Macy's Day Parade, Rosner says. Over all those days, only Wal-Mart came in with a net negative sentiment, Netbase says, likely stemming from comments surrounding ongoing labor protests at Wal-Mart stores.

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