February 8, 2011, 1:41 PM

A sports e-retailer reflects on the football frenzy

Despite the Steelers’ Super Bowl loss, ThePittsburghFan.com says it had a winning season.

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The Pittsburgh Steelers may have lost Super Bowl XLV to the Green Bay Packers, but ThePittsburghFan.com says the run up to the big game drove major spikes in traffic and sales. The e-retailer says it refined its order processing and billing systems to help manage the surge without having to hire more staff. 

“You really have to prepare yourself for this kind on onslaught,” says Dave Weiss, Internet marketing manager for ThePittsburghFan.com. “Your systems and processes have to be really, really tight if you don’t want to have to hire an additional 20 people to handle it.”Working with its e-commerce software provider NetSuite, Weiss says the site bolstered its on-site merchandising and its paid search program as soon as it looked like the Steelers would qualify for the National Football League playoffs.

The e-retailer also tied its order, billing and shipping systems together so that it could automatically e-mail shipping notices and tracking numbers sent via e-mail???. Previously, the e-retailer’s employees had to call a toll-free number to check on orders. Customer service also had to manually contact a customer if a customer’s credit card was declined; now the e-retailer sends an automated e-mail.

Making these changes allowed ThePittsburghFan.com to focus on stocking inventory that would appeal to Steelers fans. Weiss says demand for the “terrible towels” that Pittsburgh fans wave at games shot up 723% from the week before the AFC championship game, which determined that the team would be in the Super Bowl, to the week after. Weiss estimates site traffic increased 400% during the same time, on top of its already elevated traffic leading into the playoffs.

Weiss likens the spike in traffic to that of Cyber Monday, the Monday following Thanksgiving that is known to be a high sales day for e-retailers.

“It’s a very sudden spike. You can see the difference from Sunday night before the game to after Pittsburgh won the AFC game,” he says. He says ThePittsburghFan.com, running on NetSuite’s system, encountered no performance issues in handling the traffic.

The e-retailer says it was able to fill the onslaught of orders without having to hire extra warehouse staff, although staffers who normally work part time put in extra hours. If the Steelers had won, Weiss says the e-retailer was prepared to send some Chicago-area warehouse staff to its Pennsylvania warehouse for a week to 10 days to help keep pace with the orders that would have come in.

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