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story.lead_photo.caption Blake Puryear, with Engine E-Commerce,Tuesday, November 21, 2017, at the new location of his business on Township Street in Fayetteville. - Photo by David Gottschalk

FAYETTEVILLE -- A new company in Fayetteville hopes to sell itself as a guide for new and established e-commerce companies, by offering advice and software while the industry adapts to rapid changes.

The company, called Engine, sprouted from Hayseed Ventures, an incubator based in Fayetteville. Local entrepreneurs John James and Blake Puryear look to leverage their knowledge gained from working with e-commerce upstarts at Hayseed to be local experts on online retail trends and software necessities.

Puryear and James worked with more than 300 e-commerce companies at Hayseed. Among them, online tuxedo rental company Menguin sold for $25 million to a competitor in the industry this September. James is the co-founder and former chief executive of Acumen Brands, a Fayetteville-based company that received $90 million from investors in 2013.

Puryear said he and James clocked how frequently new retailers struggle to find affordable online platforms to sell their products. Engine is going after the companies that are too big to sell on eBay or websites like Shopify but cannot yet afford to build their own platforms from scratch.

They've been planning and tinkering since January, and they have raised an undisclosed amount of seed funding. Right now, the company is in the building phase and hopes to be fully functioning by the spring. Puryear said the company just moved into its office at 245 E. Township St. in September. About four people work at the office, and three others freelance from afar.

With its sights set on the 2020 decade, Engine, Puryear said, will not only sell access to its online platform and software, but also will "foster a culture of e-commerce education," by inviting professionals from new and legacy companies to study trends and tools shaping e-commerce.

In recent years, the competition between Wal-Mart Stores and Amazon.com has taken center stage in e-commerce, creating a buzz among online sellers throughout the industry and in Northwest Arkansas.

"Both sides are pushing each other to do new and innovative stuff, and that is kind of pushing all of e-commerce forward," Puryear said. "It's gotten this whole area excited."

On the horizon for online sellers big and small is the holiday shopping season. The National Retail Federation expects close to 164 million consumers to shop over the Thanksgiving weekend. About $78 million in sales will come from Cyber Monday, according to National Retail Federation data. Puryear offers some advice to e-commerce shops looking for a leg up in the crowded industry.

Q: How should online sellers keep customers' attention during the holiday sales season?

BP: "Online retailers put a lot of effort to drum up excitement ahead of Black Friday and Cyber Monday. A lot of times you'll see a drop off right afterwards. Follow through with it, because that shopper is probably not done with the holiday shopping. You can keep their attention up if you keep emailing them or interacting with them. Send emails before, during and after Cyber Monday."

Q: Which areas of the business are most complicated during this time?

BP: "Inventory isn't the fun marketing side of e-commerce, but if you sell out of something in hour one, and you have people waiting for it out the door, so to speak, people ordering over and over again online, and they're not going to get it until January, you're going to have a lot of unhappy customers. In the Amazon age we're living in now, people are expecting [their orders] that next week. If you can't deliver on that, you should make it clear all over your site what your shipping expectations are."

Q: What can online sellers learn from consumers during the holiday rush?

BP: "Just because someone signed up for your [Cyber Monday] deals, doesn't mean they're totally uninterested in your brand. You need to figure out if they're interested in what you have to sell, or if they're just interested in the sales themselves. That's a tricky maze to navigate. Because there are a lot of people out there who just shop because of deals."

Q: What kind of branding issues should sellers think about?

BP: "Stay true to the brand, and don't sell out with promos. Getting caught up in it all compromises the integrity of your brand. The big, black and orange text, while it catches people's eyes, [retailers] lose that feel of their brand in exchange for deep discounts and more sales."

Business on 11/26/2017

Print Headline: New company sells advice on online retail, software

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