By  on October 24, 2011

More than two-thirds of retailers expect their online sales to grow at least 15 percent this holiday season, and offers of free shipping will be leaned on heavily to produce the hoped-for results.

A survey by the National Retail Federation’s division, conducted by BIGresearch, revealed that 68 percent of the retailers queried expected their e-commerce revenues to grow 15 percent or more, up from 63.8 percent who forecast that level of increase last year. Just two of the 47 retailers responding, or 4.3 percent, expected their online sales to be flat or down, and only 13, or 27.7 percent, anticipated increases of less than 15 percent.

The flowering of social media has caught merchants’ attention, with 74.5 percent of respondents indicating that they would make greater use of Facebook in response to the economy and 45.1 percent checking off the same response about Twitter. While other social media garnered a 41.2 percent affirmative response, “increased use of mobile alerts” checked in at 7.8 percent and “location-based services,” such as Foursquare, at 9.8 percent. Nearly a third of respondents, 31.4 percent, were raising inventory levels to be more competitive, and nearly as many, 29.4 percent, intended to use daily deal offers to rouse consumers in a challenging economic environment.

While 43.1 percent said their existing free shipping program would remain in place, 31.4 percent said they’d turn to that option earlier than they did a year ago. Exactly one in six — 16.7 percent — said they had “significantly higher” budgets for free shipping than they did a year ago, with 39.6 percent indicating those budgets were “somewhat higher.” Although 39.6 percent said they’d allotted about the same amount for free shipping, just 4.2 percent said the budget would be “somewhat lower” and none indicated a “significantly lower” budget.

The study requested that retailers indicate what percentage of their annual marketing budgets were dedicated specifically to the holiday season. The most popular response, drawing 20 of the 50 responses, was between 21 and 30 percent, followed by 12 indicating 11 to 20 percent and seven choosing 31 to 40 percent. Six said they’d devote 41 to 50 percent; three, 6 to 10 percent, and one each chose either 1 to 5 percent or over 50 percent.

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