Online Retailers Pushing for Early Purchasing: Survey

NRF’s Shop.org study shows acceleration of holiday marketing plans.

Online retailers will push consumers to make more of their holiday purchases earlier with offers of free shipping and accelerated promotional calendars, according to a survey conducted by BIGinsight for the National Retail Federation’s Shop.org division.

More than three in five online retailers — 61.6 percent — will start their holiday marketing and promotion campaigns by Halloween, up from 52.9 percent in the 2011 survey. Responding to a question not asked in last year’s survey, just 10.3 percent will not offer some kind of free shipping during the holiday season.

“More than 89 percent of stores will have some form of free shipping,” Vicki Cantrell, executive director of Shop.org, told WWD. “They may have to buy an extra item to qualify for it, but they’ll be disappointed if they get to the end of the transaction and there isn’t some provision for it.”

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She expects a change in the cadence of holiday business as online purchasers, many of them users of flash sites, bring greater urgency to the task of buying holiday gifts, decorations and related items. “They have been educated to the idea of limited-time offers and understand that, if you don’t buy it now, you may not be able to get it, whether it’s the item itself or the deal,” she said. “And they’re not looking at unlimited availability. From everything we’re seeing, retailers’ inventories are much sharper and much tighter than they have been in recent years. You don’t have the option of ‘unlimited product.’”

The survey included detailed responses from 39 retailers, including Internet pure plays. More than five in nine — 56.4 percent — were multichannel retailers who derived more than half their business from brick-and-mortar stores.

While the percentage of retailers offering free standard shipping with conditions such as a minimum purchase amount fell to 37.5 percent from 49 percent in 2011, that was more than offset by the marked rise in those offering free standard shipping without conditions, up to 30 percent from 15.7 percent. The most popular incentive was a coupon offering a certain percentage off, favored by 47.5 percent of respondents versus 43.1 percent a year ago. Besides the free shipping options, the only other promotion to draw more than 30 percent of the sample was limited-time promotions, up to 32.5 percent from 31.4 percent a year ago. Stores were asked to indicate the three promotions behind which they planned to put the greatest emphasis.

When asked how the economy had affected their holiday plans as compared to a year ago, the most popular response was “increased use of Facebook,” garnering a 57.5 percent rating, followed by increased use of Google Product Listing Ads at 52.5 percent, the same share that checked off “same discount schedule as last year.” In descending order of popularity, the next three most popular options were increased use of Pinterest and higher inventory levels, both at 45 percent, and increased use of Twitter, at 40 percent.