November 20, 2007, 12:00 AM

Worried e-retailers try to jump-start holiday shopping

With forecasters predicting soft holiday sales, online retailers are going on the marketing offensive, with aggressive e-mail campaigns and plans for more promotions than ever on the Monday after Thanksgiving.

Don Davis

Editor in Chief

With forecasters predicting soft holiday sales, online retailers are going on the marketing offensive, hoping to get consumers shopping early with aggressive e-mail campaigns and plans for more promotions than ever on the Monday after Thanksgiving. In a sign that consumers may be responding, one index of 10 large e-retailers shows sales were up 30% last week over the same week a year ago.

49% of the top 100 online retailers sent out at least one marketing e-mail yesterday, up sharply from 29% last year, according to RetailEmail.Blogspot, which tracks the e-mail marketing campaigns of top e-retailers and is associated with the Direct Marketing Association’s Email Experience Council. That follows a 14% increase in e-mail volume last week compared with the same week a year ago. E-mail volume also was up in advance of the Columbus Day and Veterans Day sales.

“In recent weeks there have been several signs that retailers are trying to bring holiday sales forward before the economy and consumer confidence weaken any further,” says Chad White, founder of RetailEmail.Blogspot and director of retail insights for the Email Experience Council. He believes that this will lead to online sales on the Monday after Thanksgiving that are “likely to be much bigger this year than last year.”

Many retailers are planning special promotions for next Monday, 72.2% versus 42.7% two years ago, according to a survey conducted by Shop.org, the online merchant trade group of the National Retail Federation. 32% plan special e-mail campaigns, 29.9% specific deals and 28.9% one-day sales. And 24.7% say they will offer free shipping on all purchases. The results are based on a poll of 116 online retailers between Sept. 26 and Oct. 8.

“As more people rely on the Internet for holiday shopping, retailers have stepped up their game to compete,” says Scott Silverman, executive director of Shop.org.

Many consumers will shop from work next Monday, although polls vary on how many. A BIGresearch survey for Shop.org suggests 54.5% of office workers with Internet access, or 68.5 million people, will shop for holiday gifts from work, up from 50.7% last year and 44.7% in 2005. Men are more likely to shop from work than women (57.3% to 51.7%) and the 18-24 age group is the most likely to use the office computer for shopping, at 72.9%.

Another survey from online job site CareerBuilder.com found 30% of workers plan to shop online from work this year, and that 24% of workers who holiday shop from their desks will spend at least two hours doing so this holiday season. 50% of employers surveyed by CareerBuilder.com say they monitor employees’ Internet usage, and 18% say they have fired workers for using the Internet for activities unrelated to work.

All of the promotions may be having some impact, as an index of sales at 10 major online retailers was up 30% last week compared with the same week a year ago, according to payment processor Chase Paymentech. Online sales at those 10 e-commerce sites totaled $78.37 million on Tuesday, the peak day of the week, and $66.46 million on Monday, the second-highest sales day last week. The Chase Pulse index consistently showed last year that online sales were highest on Tuesday each week during the holiday season, belying the notion that consumers are most likely to make web purchases on Monday.

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