December 15, 2009, 12:00 AM

Time is running out for online Christmas shopping, survey shows

Lazy shoppers’ days of procrastination are numbered. At least, that is, if they want their Christmas gifts to arrive on time. Most e-retailers list Dec. 18 or before as the deadline for placing orders for delivery by Christmas, a recent poll finds.

Lazy shoppers’ days of procrastination are numbered. At least, that is, if they want their Christmas gifts for loved ones to arrive on time. Most e-retailers list Dec. 18 or before as the deadline for placing online orders for delivery by Christmas, according to Shop.org’s eHoliday study. 62.3% of retailers’ shipping deadlines fall on or before Dec. 18 and 34% list the cutoff on Dec. 18 itself.

“Online shoppers don’t need to deal with long lines, store hours or winter weather, but they do need to plan ahead,” says Scott Silverman, executive director of Shop.org, the e-commerce arm of the National Retail Federation. “To entice online shoppers on a budget, many retailers will offer special sales and promotions as shipping deadlines near.”

Those who miss standard shipping deadlines may still be able to get their gifts under the tree by Christmas. 54.2% of online retailers polled said they will offer overnight shipping options for Christmas delivery through Dec. 23.

Beyond ensuring gifts will arrive on time, shoppers also will want to note Dec. 18 if they are looking to save on shipping fees. 17.9% of retailers say that is the last day they’ll offer free shipping.

The eHoliday survey, which was conducted by BIGresearch, polled 2,623 consumers from Sept. 23 – Oct. 6 and 70 online retailers from Sept. 14 – Oct. 6.

In addition to offering expedited shipping to last-minute shoppers, 79.4% of e-retailers said they planned to offer free shipping with conditions-such as a minimum order value or size-during the holiday season, and 57.4% planned to offer free shipping without conditions. The tactic seems to be working. 33.1% of shoppers said they plan to spend more online this holiday season because of free shipping, according to the survey.

“In this economy, shoppers are taking a look at the entire purchase price-including shipping-before deciding where to shop,” says Phil Rist, executive vice president, strategic initiatives, BIGresearch. “Though free shipping isn’t free for retailers, companies know these promotions can set themselves apart from their competition and are relying on them more heavily to bring in shoppers.”

According to FreeShipping.org, a web site that lists retailers that offer free shipping, 450 merchants have signed up to participate in Free Shipping Day, set for Dec. 17. Launched by FreeShipping.org, Free Shipping Day is a day where participating e-retailers offer free shipping to their customers with guaranteed delivery by Christmas Eve. Merchants participating this year include Toys ‘R’ Us Holding Inc., JCPenney Co. Inc., Apple Inc., Nike Inc., Sears Holdings Corp. and PetSmart Inc.

Free Shipping Day launched last year with more than 250 merchants participating, the organization says. The FreeShippingDay.com web site hosted 100,000 unique visitors on Free Shipping Day 2008, according to FreeShipping.org.

Merchants that offer free shipping on all orders receive the most prominent placement on FreeShipping.org, Knowles says.

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