Study: Online retailers will promote the holidays as early as Halloween

Nearly 40 percent of multichannel retailers said that they will start their holiday marketing earlier this year than last and more than 60 percent will begin promotions by November 4. This trend is in proportion to consumer preferences, as 20 percent of online shoppers said they plan to shop for holiday gifts earlier this year and 34.9 percent will start their shopping by Halloween.

“Due to shipping deadlines, online retailers have a shorter promotional window for the holiday season, so many of them want to be first out of the gate to debut holiday merchandise,” said Scott Silverman, executive director of Shop.org. “Multichannel retailers are very good at responding to what their customers want and, this year, customers want to start shopping early.”

The results are part of the “2006 eHoliday Mood Survey, conducted by BizRate Research for Shopzilla and Shop.org.”

An increasing number of online retailers will offer shipping promotions this year including free shipping with or without conditions and discounted shipping. Two years ago, only 64 percent of online retailers offered free shipping with conditions; this year, 83 percent of retailers will be offering the promotion. This trend is in line with customer expectations, as three-fourths of shoppers said that free shipping offers are one of the most important factors when they decide where to buy online. Many retailers will also be adding “early shopper” discounts (12 percent of retailers will be adding this service for the first time, with 38.7 percent of retailers offering it) and “first time buyer” discounts (13.3 percent will add this service for the first time, with 30.6 percent of retailers offering it) this year.

To bring customers to their Web sites, multichannel retailers will be planning a variety of online and offline marketing strategies for the holidays. Nearly all online retailers (97.4 percent) will be investing in search engine marketing and comparison shopping engines (73.1 percent), according to the survey. Companies are also using more unconventional online marketing strategies with 41.6 percent of retailers incorporating Blogs or RSS feeds and 79.5 percent of retailers using viral marketing. Offline, retailers will invest in traditional media advertising in newspapers (44 percent), magazines (52 percent) and on radio (31.6 percent) and television (26.3 percent).

“Online shoppers have become more diverse than ever in terms of when and how they shop, so retailers must market to the masses this year,” said Helen Malani, Shopzilla’s Chief Shopping Expert. “Multichannel retailers plan to maximize their sales by advertising both online and offline this holiday season.”

The survey also found that companies are extremely optimistic about holiday sales, with 20 percent of online retalers expecting to experience growth of 75 percent or more over last year. About 30 percent plan to experience growth from 30-74 percent and one in five 22 percent are projecting growth between 15-29 percent over last holiday.

The eHoliday Mood Survey, now in its fifth year and is based on data provided directly from online retailers in addition to consumer data. The survey, conducted by BizRate Research, a division of Shopzilla, for Shop.org, was designed to gauge consumer behavior and online retailers’ success during the winter holiday season. The poll of 2,914 online buyers (defined as anyone who has made an online purchase in the last twelve months) and 80 online retailers, all members of Shop.org, was conducted Sept. 18-21.