November 23, 2009, 12:00 AM

Some e-retailers expect a strong surge in Thanksgiving weekend sales

Unlike last year, when the tough economy reined in consumer spending, many retailers believe this Friday after Thanksgiving will deliver higher web sales. Some retailers such as Buy.com expect sales to go up as much as 40%.

Having already unleashed a flurry of deals, discounts and other incentives, web retailers are looking for strong sales the day after Thanksgiving, one of the busiest online shopping days of the year. And unlike last year, when the tough economy reined in spending, many retailers believe this Friday after Thanksgiving, often referred to as Black Friday, will deliver significantly higher web sales.

After seeing sales decline on the Friday after Thanksgiving last year by 20%, mass merchandise online retailer Overstock.com Inc. expects to erase that deficit and grow sales by as much as 10% over 2007, says CEO Patrick Byrne. “Sales on the Friday after Thanksgiving will pick up for us this year and probably for many other online retailers,” Byrne says. “When consumers look at the economy, many of them feel that the worst is over and will open their wallets more. Sales were lousy last year because the full force of the bad economy was hitting home.”

Kohl’s Corp. is predicting a 30% increase in web sales for the holiday season, driven by promotions that include more than 300 after-Thanksgiving Day offers such as 50% off the entire stock of Fisher-Price, Playskool, Barbie, Littlest Pet Shop, Hot Wheels, Matchbox, Tonka, Little Tikes, Crayola and Play-Doh toys. "This year we have built more value into our offers to help shoppers be strategic in their spending,” says Kohl’s chief marketing officer Julie Gardner.

Amazon.com Inc., which today announced Black Friday Deals Week and a Black Friday Deals page where shoppers can check out daily deals through Thanksgiving week and the Monday after Thanksgiving, also anticipates that sales in the fourth quarter could increase year over year by as much as 36% from $6.70 billion to $9.1 billion. Amazon is No. 1 in the Internet Retailer Top 500 Guide (a PDF version of the company’s financial and operating profile can be ordered by clicking on its name).

“A lot of web shoppers are thinking the worst of the economic mess may be behind us and they are signaling web retailers that they expect to spend more on the Friday after Thanksgiving, which is really the all-important start to the holiday shopping season,” says Nikki Baird, managing partner of research and advisory firm RSR Research. “The big mass merchandise sites are forecasting healthy gains in traffic and sales because they will have the heavily discounted door buster items shoppers want.”

To generate more sales on this Friday after Thanksgiving, Overstock will begin offering free shipping for the remainder of the holiday season. Overstock also has introduced a new gift finder tool that Byrne says lets visitors shop for a family of five, select merchandise and complete the transaction in about 30 minutes. “One of the reasons sales will be up this Friday is simply because of the convenience of online shopping,” says Byrne. “The experience is better online and there’s no trip to the mall.” Amazon is No. 29 in the Internet Retailer Top 500 Guide (a PDF version of the company’s financial and operating profile can be ordered by clicking on its name).

Diversity will also play a role in how successful merchants are in driving sales the Friday after Thanksgiving. Last year web sales for the day after Thanksgiving increased 40% for Buy.com and the online retailer expects a similar gain this year. To generate more Thanksgiving and holiday-related sales, Buy.com has been aggressively expanding its third-party marketplace, which features merchandise from more than 1,000 merchants. Buy.com, which expects the marketplace to generate at least one-third of all sales on the Friday after Thanksgiving, has added new categories, such as perfume and jewelry, and expanded the total number of available SKUs from 4.3 million to 5 million.

“Instead of having just one hot product that once we are out of inventory we’re done, we can offer Buy.com customers up to 15 merchants with available product,” says Buy.com vice president of marketing Jeff Wisot. “Last year the Friday after Thanksgiving set a company sales record and we are even more diversified than one year ago.”

This Friday, Buy.com will also be able to serve international customers from Canada, France, Germany and the United Kingdom because of expanded relationships with Amazon.com, eBay and Google. “How we do this Friday sets the tone for the rest of the holiday shopping season,” says Wisot. “We are putting ourselves in a position to succeed.” Amazon is No. 33 in the Internet Retailer Top 500 Guide (a PDF version of the company’s financial and operating profile can be ordered by clicking on its name).

A year ago luxury retailers, led by online jewelry merchants, were especially hard hit. But in new financial guidance Blue Nile Inc. estimates sales in the fourth quarter could rise year over year by as much as 27% to $109 million from $85.8 million. To hit that target, Blue Nile is rolling out its Holiday Exclusive program, which features limited edition jewelry items at a significant discount, but on a first come, first served basis. A new Holiday Exclusive will be revealed each day through Dec. 23. Blue Nile also will offer free overnight shipping via FedEx Priority Overnight. “Unlike other free shipping offers, there is no minimum order, no special membership and there are no hidden fees,” says Blue Nile CEO Diane Irvine. “It’s simply the best shipping offer available in online retail.” Amazon is No. 56 in the Internet Retailer Top 500 Guide (a PDF version of the company’s financial and operating profile can be order by clicking on its name).

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