More small businesses embracing e-commerce

You may already have had your fill of Black Friday and Cyber Monday. But what about "Small Business Saturday." That initiative, begun several years ago, is meant to garner support for local small businesses during the holiday shopping season, especially on the Saturday following Thanksgiving.

Small businesses are of course an essential part of the nation's economic engine, and an important indicator of America's financial health. And while many small businesses suffered during the Great Recession, a growing number are picking up customers from what just a few years ago would have been considered an unlikely source: the Internet.

According to a report by Duda, a California-based "DIY" website-building group for web professional and small business, nearly one-third of 440 small business owners surveyed at companies across the U.S. expect at least 25 percent of their holiday sales this year to take place online. And 14 percent of the respondents say that more than half of their holiday revenue comes from their websites.

"I think the general sentiment out there is that consumers generally shop on Amazon (AMZN) and big corporate websites," said Duda co-founder and CEO Itai Sadan. "But the fact is that small businesses expect such a large portion of their revenue to come from online means that... [they] have to prepare for that, and make sure that they're providing those consumers with a great online experience."

Sadan says the adoption of e-commerce by small businesses has been gradual. Many enterprises have embraced the web only over the past five to eight years, as firms become more familiar with online technologies and as the spread of smartphones fueled the growth of mobile commerce.

After all, many of these small businesses are themselves technology consumers, using Facebook, Twitter and other social media outlets to get their message out to potential customers. The technologies needed for a business to have an online presence have also become much more user-friendly, and an in-depth business website can now be set up in a matter of hours.

And it's not just a matter of younger, more tech-savvy small business owners getting their business online.

"It's happening across the board," Sadan notesd, with many small companies figuring out how to make technology that once seemed like a direct threat to brick-and-mortar businesses work for them.

"For example, adding a Facebook 'like' status next to a product so a person who's seen a product that they like can share it on Facebook with their friends and family," Sadan said. "These types of things are extremely important."

Many small businesses are also turning to technology to extend their reach during the vital holiday shopping period, such as by offering customized seasonal coupons.

"Small businesses simply can't afford to ignore the online world anymore," Matt Schulz, senior industry analyst at Creditcard.com, told CBS MoneyWatch. "But whether online shopping ultimately hurts or helps your business depends on a lot of factors -- perhaps most importantly, what you're selling."

Schulz gives the example of a small, family-owned art gallery in a tourist town. While that gallery may have ample walk-up traffic during peak tourist seasons, "a well-made, easy-to-use website can attract sales from all around the world, allowing the gallery to generate sales far beyond what would be possible with just in-person sales," he said.

Schulz advises small businesses to look at online shopping as an opportunity, rather than something to fear. "After all," he noted, "the reality is that it's only going to become more common as years pass, and businesses that choose not to adjust are doing so at their peril."