Retail marketing experts are looking to spread out their holiday promotions even as the unforgiving fourth-quarter calendar compresses the season, according to an annual study by business services firm BDO USA LLC.

In a survey of chief marketing officers from 100 U.S. retail firms, including 11 of the nation’s largest 100 stores, exactly half said they would spread their promotions throughout the season. Thirteen percent said most of their holiday promotions would occur before Black Friday and another 13 percent identified the Thanksgiving/Black Friday weekend as the peak for their promotional efforts. Nearly one in six — 16 percent — said they had no special holiday promotions planned, while 7 percent said they would focus on late-holiday-season discounts.

The study, dubbed the 2013 BDO Retail Compass Survey of CMOs, also revealed that stores expect a 3.1 percent increase in Black Friday sales this year, identical to their expectations last year, while their median expectation for Cyber Monday sales was a 3.7 percent increase, down from last year’s projection of 4.3 percent growth. The percentage of stores expecting an increase on Black Friday rose, to 38 percent from 30 percent a year ago, but the percentage expecting an increase on Cyber Monday fell, to 25 percent from 34 percent.

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Ted Vaughan, partner with BDO’s retail and consumer products practice, noted that the shortness of the holiday selling season — with just 25 days between Black Friday and Christmas versus 32 in 2012 — is likely to increase the power of “Super Saturday” on Dec. 21. “Stores will have these large initial sales opportunities but it’s clear they’re trying not to skew too much of the demand at the beginning of the season,” he said. “As inventory builds up and competitors do what they can to attract customers, they’ll push to make sure there isn’t too much inventory left over on their shelves.”

Super Saturday is considered the second-busiest day of the holiday season, behind only Black Friday.

While a majority of those surveyed — 63 percent — said they expected retailers in general to offer more discounts and promotions this holiday, their responses indicated changing attitudes about how to maximize business for the season. Nearly half — 47 percent — said the majority of their discounting and promotion would be focused on in-store selling and 39 percent said it would be equally focused on in-store and online activity. That’s a reversal of the 2012 trend, when 44 percent said their marketing would be equally focused on the two channels versus 41 percent who responded that their greatest efforts would be devoted to in-store selling.

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And while “exclusive in-store deals and discounts” remained the favored promotional tactic to draw customers to brick-and-mortar stores, the percentage identifying it in those terms declined to 38 percent of the sample from 66 percent last year. The second-most popular response — in-store events — rose to 25 percent from 22 percent, while those embracing exclusive in-store brands and partnerships doubled to 16 percent and those selecting extended hours tripled to 12 percent.

Among techniques to promote online purchases, free shipping increased its plurality, rising to 38 percent from 34 percent, while e-mail promotions and social media sites both garnered 20 percent of the response. However, that represented a drop-off for e-mail promotions, which tallied 31 percent a year ago, and a pick-up for social media sites, which pulled in just 14 percent of the vote a year ago.

“E-mail is becoming an increasingly difficult way to get in front of consumers as provider, such as Gmail, begin to filter promotional e-mails out of users’ primary in-boxes,” BDO said.

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