Larger retailers have begun rolling out deeply discounted products and free shipping promotions to attract the growing pool of shoppers using the Internet to get a jump on the holiday buying season. For Overstock.com Inc., the bargains take the form of daily pre-Black Friday deals on 120 products and 50% off deals to come, while eBags.com takes its discounting strategy to new depths on hundreds of products. Another big online retailer, Buy.com Inc., is offering free shipping on 2.6 million of its products.
For many larger retailers, Black Friday—the traditional start to holiday shopping on the day after Thanksgiving—is beginning to stretch into a full week with preliminary promotions designed to accommodate shoppers when they are ready to buy.
In eBags.com’s case, meeting its shoppers’ wishes for deep discounts on handbags and luggage meant getting some product manufacturers on board with discounting earlier than usual, says Peter Cobb, co-founder and senior vice president at eBags.com.
“We understand that value is important to our customers and we have been fortunate,” Cobb says. “We have 550 brands on our site and have been able to work with key brands.” In the past, some manufacturers have preferred to hold off discounting until Dec. 26, he says. “But this year we have been able to work with some more of them and they have agreed to discount when customers are ready to shop. There has been a climate change in that some brands are realizing there is a new customer out there and new economic challenges.”
EBags, No. 117 in the Internet Retailer Top 500 Guide, began the Thanksgiving holiday run-up yesterday by featuring a dozen “Holiday Door Busters” items discounted for one-day only. On Black Friday the site will unveil discounts of 25% in several categories along with free shipping for orders over $100, Cobb says.
Cobb has high expectations for the holiday sales season, based on 21% growth through the first three weeks of November compared with the same time last year. “Our goal is to keep that momentum going,” he says. “It’s a positive indicator that things are looking up for bags and luggage.” Cyber Monday, the Monday after Thanksgiving so labeled because it has become one of the first big online shopping dates each holiday season, is expected to deliver strong sales as well, Cobb says. “Last year, Cyber Monday was our largest sales day ever at 55% over the previous year. We hope to top that this year.”
Buy.com, No. 32 in the Top 500 Guide, also got a running start on the Friday after Thanksgiving with free shipping on more than 2.6 million, or 31%, of its 8.4 million products beginning this week. The promotion was timed for the holiday season, but will go beyond it, says Jeff Wisot, vice president of marketing. “We plan to carry free shipping on 2.6 million products through 2011 at least, and we already offer free shipping on many of our products priced at $25 and up.”
This week’s holiday shopping specials will gradually increase until Friday when all 2.6 million of the designated products qualify for free shipping. Free shipping is the second-most requested service from Buy.com customers, after product selection, Wisot says. “Our customers are going to be very excited about this promotion, and about the exclusive deals we’ll have throughout the day on Friday.”
Black Friday deals will include one for a Panasonic 42-inch HDTV for $298.99 and another for a ViewSonic 22-inch HD monitor for $89.99. Buy.com will spread the inventory around so there will be quantities of these and other featured products, including apparel, jewelry, pet supplies, toys and movies, available in the morning, afternoon and evening.
Buy.com also rolled out a customer rewards program last week, dubbed Super Points. Different product categories will feature different point specials, such as one for 20 times the usual one point per dollar rate return on toys through Thursday. All transactions earn points to exchange for dollars off future purchases.
Wisot also expects the free 45-day return policy that Buy.com launched a few months ago to help shoppers with buying decisions. He declined to divulge specific sales expectations, but noted that sales had increased by double digits in the past week and a half.
At Overstock.com, No. 28 in the Top 500 Guide, chairman and CEO Patrick Byrne declined to talk about specific Black Friday sales prospects. “We’re going to do well,” Byrne says. “The quarter is shaping up adequately and we expect a good finish to the year. We think this Christmas is going to be good.”
To entice Black Friday shoppers Overstock plans deep discounts of up to 50% on some products. Other deals will apply to popular products such as the Barnes & Noble Nook e-reader and a range of digital cameras, Byrne says. In advance of the big shopping day, Overstock.com has a countdown “clock” ticking off seconds until Black Friday, and displays pre-Black Friday and pre-Cyber Monday sale items.
The mass merchant also launched a new service in the past two weeks called Window Shopper that “learns” a shopper’s product preferences as selections are viewed or ignored. “They click on products they like and train the algorithm to get smarter,” Byrne says. And Overstock plans to introduce a gift finder this week that will make suggestions based on demographic information the shopper provides about the recipient.
Overstock also has tied into social media. Visitors to the company’s Facebook page that sign on as “followers” will receive a two-hour head start on Black Friday deals scheduled to begin at midnight on Thursday. The same preview shopping window will be available for Cyber Monday shopping, which will feature similar promotions available to Black Friday shoppers, Byrne says.