November 4, 2011, 10:42 AM

E-commerce gets a holiday jump

Top e-retailers aren’t waiting for the day after Thanksgiving to shower consumers with deals.

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Many of the top e-retailers wasted no time this week in getting the word out that the holiday shopping season has begun, adorning their sites with Christmas gift centers and holiday shopping previews as well as offering Black Friday sales 24 days early. “Black November,” as some retailers are trumpeting, has arrived.

Black Friday is the busy shopping day following Thanksgiving that has for decades signaled the official start of the holiday season. But shoppers, especially online shoppers, aren’t waiting for the big day. 21.1% of online shoppers say they started their holiday shopping at the end of September, whereas 18.6% of all shoppers did, according to the National Retail Federation’s 2011 Holiday Consumer Intentions and Actions Survey. The survey finds that 46.7% of respondents say they’ll purchase holiday items online this season, up from 43.9% a year ago, and those consumers who include the web in their shopping plans will spend more than the average consumer.

An Internet Retailer survey of the e-commerce sites of the top 100 merchants in the Internet Retailer Top 500 Guide indicates that retailers are well aware consumers already are shopping for holiday gifts. And industry observers say now is the time for retailers to shift into high gear.

“Anyone who feels like they must sit on their deals or try to prevent deals from getting onto sites like BlackFriday.com is swimming against the tide,” says Nikki Baird, managing partner at Retail Systems Research LLC. “If you can get consumers to spread their holiday demand over a longer period of time, it gives you a better chance to respond and meet more demand. So it might well be worth it to offer some good deals now.”

Amazon.com Inc. opened its Black Friday Deals store this week. The store features discounts on hundreds of popular gift items like cameras, video games, movies, jewelry, clothing and more, now through Black Friday, Nov. 25. Another giant, Walmart.com, has placed a large box on its home page allowing shoppers to sign up for special e-mails that will inform them of Black Friday deals and online-only promotions. Walmart.com declines to reveal when it will send the first notification.

Newegg Inc. randomly included in Oct. 31 shipments plastic orange eggs that contained such prizes as a $5-off coupon code, a flash drive or a $1,000 gift card to Newegg.com. “This is just one way we want to thank our loyal, awesome customers, and get them excited for the start of Black November,” a company spokesman says. Newegg kicked off its Black November promotions Nov. 1 and will offer discounts and promotions in all product categories throughout the month. It’s the second year in a row Newegg has run Black November promotions throughout the month.

On Monday, HSN Inc. featured a 24-hour Deck The Halls sale with special pricing and free shipping on select items in holiday décor and entertaining. It also showcases on its home page a line of Christmas tree ornaments linked to celebrities including Martha Stewart, Twiggy and Marlo Thomas.

Also on Monday, Saks Direct introduced its Holiday Gift Guide in a promotional e-mail. Ralph Lauren Media LLC began finessing its e-commerce site with sections to “Shop new holiday arrivals” and “Make a statement in timeless eveningwear this holiday season.” 1-800-Flowers.com Inc. added a promotional link atop its home page to a Christmas Preview section.

Drugstore.com Inc. this week began prominently displaying the saying “Shop smart, give wisely,” promoting its online holiday store where shoppers can buy best-selling items, stocking stuffers and gifts under $25. ShopNBC.com launched a Christmas Countdown with sales on thousands of products. Shoebuy.com Inc. began its Holiday Warm-up Sale, offering 15% off select products and free shipping on purchases of $75 or more.

A Nov. 1 e-mail from TigerDirect, a unit of Systemax Inc., linked customers to an HDTV and Electronics Gift Guide on the e-commerce site, where the e-retailer wrote, “Shhh...This is an Early Black Friday Deal,” for a 55-inch TV for $999.97, a discount of $500. PC Mall Inc. has placed on its home page a button for a Holiday Treats sales section and is offering a November Pre-Holiday Sale on many categories of electronics and appliances.

Lowe’s Cos. Inc. chose to announce some of its Black Friday deals not on its e-commerce site but through social media. It’s featuring a box on its e-commerce site home page with the title Black Friday Throwdown, and the message, “Get a Black Friday Sneak Peek: Like us on Facebook to get a glimpse of many of the upcoming Black Friday savings.” Shoppers then can enter a contest for a chance to win the 32 products showcased or a $100 Lowe’s gift card.

In the world of mobile commerce, Sears Holdings Corp. is decorating malls, airports and bus shelters with large holiday posters containing QR codes, a type of 2-D bar code that links smartphone-toting consumers to mobile web content with a snap of their cameras. The holiday-themed mobile shopping walls feature top-selling toys from Sears and Kmart with corresponding QR codes that enable consumers on the go to make purchases directly from their smartphones.

“Our mobile shopping walls are not only convenient because of their unexpected locations, but they offer easy shipping options as well,” says Julia Fitzgerald, chief digital engagement officer, toys and sporting goods, at Sears. “Our goal is to make holiday shopping so simple that customers can find the perfect gift while they are traveling or going about their daily lives, and have them waiting at their doorstep when they arrive home.”

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