E-commerce retailers and startups have been warned that the highly-anticipated Black Friday and festive shopping rushes could end up damaging their operations instead of benefitting them.

Online business experts say thousands of eager retailers – including an army of Amazon and eBay shops set up during the pandemic – are “totally ill-prepared” for the upcoming flux of customers.

Now they are urging new and growing businesses to proceed with extreme caution as the most frenzied shopping period of the year approaches, or face being crippled by “software shortcomings”.

Gillian Livingstone, chief operating officer of Scottish-based cloud software experts Eureka Solutions, said: “This is a trap that many e-commerce businesses fall into. People assume that new digital tools mean it is going to be straightforward or even easy. They get lulled into a false sense of optimism.

“It’s true there are some brilliant software tools out there for accountancy, book-keeping, customer acquisition, tracking orders and more. Each of them can be transformative in their own right.

“The problem is that these tools rarely speak to each other or integrate particularly well. We spend our working lives dealing with entrepreneurs and business people who had hoped for a smooth and hassle-free digital business – only to get bogged down by these issues.

“In the worst cases they end up employing staff or even teams of people to manually transfer information between different, business-critical applications, which defeats the entire purpose.”

Problems not only hit the behind-the-scene operations, Livingstone said they can also cause a wide range of issues for customers which can be catastrophic for online and e-commerce operators.

She added: “Common problems are that items will show as being in stock, but when it comes to ordering they aren’t, which is hugely frustrating for shoppers. Another problem is promising delivery within a specific time, when in fact it isn’t possible.

“Online vendors only get one chance. These types of problems ensure a customer will never come back. It’s the equivalent of going to a corner shop to be greeted by disorganised shelves, overwhelmed staff and a lack of customer service.”

Livingstone fears that this year’s Black Friday and festive rushes are going to be particularly painful for a cohort of new online sellers, who started selling on eBay, or platforms like Shopify and WooCommerce, during the pandemic.

She added: “There are thousands of people who lost or quit jobs due to Covid and set up online stores because eBay and other platforms offer some fantastic tools and incentives. But when sales kick up a gear, so do the challenges with keeping track of orders, invoices and fulfilment.

“Black Friday and the festive season offer the lure of amazing sales, but for many it is more likely to be a painful lesson in the reality of just how many things can go wrong.”

Based in East Kilbride, Eureka Solutions is a £4.5 million a year operation with 65 staff and delivers cloud-based business solutions to thousands of businesses across the UK. As well as deploying global platforms like Oracle NetSuite and Sage, it offers a proprietary solution, Cloud Data Exchange (CDE).

Its team of software engineers have developed CDE to allow a host of popular and widely-used tools and platforms to integrate with each other, including eBay, Shopify, WooCommerce, BigCommerce, Amazon, Salesforce, Quickbooks, Sage and Xero.

It is currently being used by almost 100 businesses, including more than 70 with e-commerce platforms and in the first quarter of the current financial year, processed almost 4.5m transactions. This saved clients almost three years of time that would have been required to process them manually.

Livingstone added: “It works for any size of business, whether a one-person operation who wants data transferred once a week at a specific time, or for much bigger firms who need data updated every 30 seconds. It’s entirely customisable and doesn’t require any specialist coding knowledge.

“When there is no need for manual data entry on orders, customer shipping details and the like, then the risk of human error is removed and everything is incredibly fast. The same is true when customer orders transfer directly into accountancy software.

“CDE can also automatically transfer inventory information into ecommerce platforms, so that customers won’t get the dreaded ‘out of stock’ message. And it will handle everything needed to set real time pricing updates, vital for ecommerce.

“What all of this means is that businesses are ready to handle very sudden and major increases in orders without having to bring in loads of additional resources to try to cope.”