December 23, 2010, 11:41 AM

E-retailers focus on last-minute and post-holiday sales

As shipping deadlines passed, e-retailers cut prices to clear merchandise and promoted gift cards.

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With guaranteed-by-Christmas delivery deadlines quickly expiring, this week top e-retailers sold consumers on gift card availability and laid the groundwork for post-holiday clearance sales.

Target.com made an aggressive play to capture deal-minded shoppers before Christmas even arrived. An offer that appeared on its home page Wednesday, Dec. 22, promoted online-only sale prices on products available for delivery after Dec. 25. A Canon digital camera, for example, was offered for $109, 39% off the listed regular price by the No. 21-ranked e-retailer according to Internet Retailer’s Top 500 Guide. ShopNBC.com (No. 89) also kicked off its year-end clearance sale Dec. 22, and sent an e-mail to customers about it early on Dec. 23, offering discounts of up to 60%.

By mid-week, several e-retailers had revised their home pages to promote the newly available discounts. Apparel retailer Avenue.com, for example, promoted sale discounts of up to 50% for its “after-holiday” sale already available this week. While HSN.com (No. 25) still promoted last-minute gift items, the e-retailer also splashed a red banner across the top of its home page that promoted year-end clearance prices of up to 60% off. OfficeMax.com (No. 7) on Wednesday encouraged shoppers to visit the retailer’s bricks-and-mortar stores for last-minute gifts but also promoted its “year-end blowout deals” available online. Silhouettes.com used its home page to promote its “final winter clearance” sale with women’s apparel up to 85% off. A clearance sale at Art.com (No. 100) promised savings of up to 75%.

Messages from top e-retailers this week also turned their focus from last-minute shipping offers and shipping deadlines early in the week to what Gap.com called “the best small package”: gift cards. Gap.com shoppers could buy e-mail-delivered gift cards and personalize them with a message and photo. Home Depot (No. 39) promoted e-mailed gift cards on its home page as the “last minute gift solution.” Home Depot took personalization one step further than Gap: consumers could upload a video or use their webcams to record a 30-second message to the recipient, and gift cards could be delivered either via e-mail or Facebook.

Last year, nearly one-third of e-mails sent by leading retailers between Dec. 22 and Dec. 24 promoted gift cards in some way, according to Chad White, research director at Responsys, an e-mail marketing firm. Dec. 23 was the peak day for gift card messages last year, he says.

Dec. 23 this year also is being pegged as Click It to Gift It Day by up to 50 e-retailer clients of CashStar Inc., a gift card provider. E-retailer participants include Williams-Sonoma, Dell Inc. and Staples. An Internet Retailer survey conducted earlier this holiday season by Lightspeed Research reported that 34% of online shoppers intended to buy gift cards as gifts this holiday.

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