December 23, 2009, 12:00 AM

Multiple web site retailers see a strong finish to the holidays

CSN Stores reports its holiday sales are up by more than 35% and Hayneedle.com says its seasonal sales have increased by double-digits. Both online retailers operate more than 200 stores.

Two retailers that operate a large number of specialized e-commerce sites say their holiday sales this year are well ahead of last year. CSN Stores LLC reports its holiday sales are up year over year by more than 35% and Hayneedle.com Inc. says its sales are increasing at a double-digit rate.

While some predicted consumers would start their main Christmas shopping in early November, CSN Stores and Hayneedle didn’t see a big lift in sales until the Friday after Thanksgiving, and even later. “We saw sales spike a little later this year on the second Monday in December,” says Ash ElDifrawi, chief marketing officer at Hayneedle, No. 83 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).

Hayneedle’s sales picked up on the Friday after Thanksgiving, often referred to as Black Friday, and the Monday after that holiday, or Cyber Monday, a contrast to past years when sales began to climb in the last few weeks of November. “Then it would get more aggressive as we got closer to December,” ElDifrawi says. But not this year. “We were wondering what’s going on?”

He declined to offer specific numbers. But ElDifrawi says Hayneedle, which changed its name from NetShops.com earlier this year, had single-digit growth in last year’s dismal economy and that growth is in double digits this year, thanks to strong–but later–holiday sales.

For CSN Stores, “it’s been a great season,” says Niraj Shah, CEO and co-founder. “Black Friday and Cyber Monday sales were up 50%” versus 2008, he says. Hayneedle is No. 63 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).

Two of CSN Stores’ niche stores-such as CSNSofas.com, which sells furniture, and AllPetFurniture.com, which sells pet beds and mats-have performed especially well, Shah says. Pet supplies is only a couple of years old and is a surprise, he says. And although furniture sales have slumped along with the deep downturn in the housing market in the past two years, this year sales are up. He declined to disclose numbers but noted that furniture sales this year tend to be a sofa or a chair intended to spruce up a nook or a space, rather than complete rooms of furniture.

Hayneedle has seen sales increases at its sites focusing on babies and young children, such as CradlesandBassinets.com and KidsRugShop.com, as well as several sites selling home furnishings and seasonal items such as artificial Christmas trees, ElDifrawi says. “But we are seeing fairly uniform growth.”

Incentives and discounting are playing larger roles this year for both multisite retailers. CSN and Hayneedle offer free shipping on most items, which is in demand among holiday shoppers and ElDifrawi thinks discounting is here to stay. “It looks like with Black Friday and Cyber Monday we’ve created massive holiday shopping expectations for pricing,” he says.

“There’s no doubt the environment is more promotional than years past,” notes Shah. “Unfortunately, I think customers have been conditioned to expect deals. We, like others, have been more promotional this year, but it’s expensive.”

CSN Stores and Hayneedle each has more than 200 niche e-commerce sites.

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