December 20, 2010, 3:38 PM

Free Shipping Day boosts sales as delivery deadlines loom

Consumers made $942 million in online purchases Friday, comScore says.

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E-retailers scored approximately $942 million in sales on Friday, marking it as the third-highest day for online sales ever, according to comScore Inc. data. Friday’s e-commerce sales were up 61% from $586 million for the corresponding day last year.

ComScore did not immediately respond to a request for comment on what accounts for such a large percentage increase in sales over the comparable day in 2009.

Friday also coincided with the day e-retailers band together to promote free shipping with delivery by Christmas Eve. 1,750 e-retailers participated in Free Shipping Day promotions on Friday, a marketing event organized by the web site FreeShipping.org, up from 750 last year, FreeShipping.org says. The first shipping holiday organized by the site took place in 2008.

Coremetrics, a web analytics unit of IBM, reported sales Friday were up 19.7% from the corresponding day in 2009, based on data from its online retailer clients. The company notes, however, that Friday’s sales still were no match for the sales generated the Monday after Thanksgiving, commonly referred to as Cyber Monday. Coremetrics data indicate sales on Friday were down 45.4% in comparison to Cyber Monday. Free Shipping Day also generated only a modest 2.9% sales bump from the previous Friday, Dec. 10. 

The idea of Free Shipping Day is getting consumers’ attention, however. Searches for “free shipping day” on Google increased by more than 70% between since Dec. 1 and Dec. 17, according to Google Inc. search data. Year over year, the searches for the phrase increased nearly 10%.

A comScore analysis found that 52.7% of online transactions last week included free shipping, up from 40.6% at the same time last year. “Free Shipping Day appears to have driven a sustained late-season response, with free shipping transactions accelerating in importance in 2010 whereas they actually began to decline during the same period in 2009,” says Gian Fulgoni, comScore chairman.

According to Shop.org, the online arm of the National Retail Federation, 84.8% of online retailers said they would offer free shipping at some point during the holiday season his year. In an Internet Retailer-exclusive survey conducted in November by Lightspeed Research, consumers cited free or discounted shipping (65%) as the second-most important factor when choosing an online store to buy from. Low price, 69%, was first.

“People have an emotional blind spot around free shipping and if you don’t offer it in some form, it is hard to recover those customers,” says Charles Nicholls, founder and chief strategy officer of SeeWhy Inc., an e-commerce marketing consultancy.

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