November 18, 2011, 3:36 PM

Countdown to Black Friday

Only a fifth of the top 100 U.S. e-retailers are explicitly promoting Black Friday deals.

Lead Photo

For decades the day after Thanksgiving, known as Black Friday, has marked the unofficial start of the holiday shopping season. With that marker one week away, 20 of the top 100 U.S. e-retailers explicitly refer to “Black Friday”-specific offers on their home pages and several more feature less specific holiday-related offers. However, hardly any retailers mention Cyber Monday, the Monday after Thanksgiving. 

That’s not surprising as retailers are focused on moving up the holiday shopping calendar, says Ken Burke, chairman of e-commerce technology provider MarketLive Inc. “Friday traditionally hasn’t been the day online retailers pushed as much as Cyber Monday,” he says. “But now they’re trying to get a jump on things. Thursday is becoming a bigger day for online sales as well.”

Half of the retailers in a recent Shop.org survey said they plan to highlight their Black Friday promotions on their home pages. And 84.2% plan to send e-mails alerting shoppers to their deals for the day after Thanksgiving, up from 80.0% last year. The Shop.org survey of 51 online retailers was conducted between Sept. 22 and Oct. 14.

Many consumers are ready to respond to those deals. 11% of consumers said they plan to only shop online this Black Friday and 34% said they plan on shopping both online and in a store this Black Friday, according to a new holiday shopping survey from consumer electronics shopping and review site Retrevo.com. The survey found 10% plan to only shop in a bricks-and-mortar store on the day after Thanksgiving, while the remaining 45% do not plan to shop.

An Internet Retailer survey of the e-commerce sites of the top 100 merchants in the Internet Retailer Top 500 Guide shows several multichannel retailers will post Friday-after-Thanksgiving offers online prior to opening their stores that day.

For instance, Office Depot Inc., No. 5 in the Top 500 Guide, began this week to promote several of its Black Friday deals, which will be available online starting on Thanksgiving and in its stores at 6 a.m. the following day. Similarly, J.C. Penney (No. 20) features links to distinct sets of online-only and in-store-only offers that will be available both on Thanksgiving and the following day.

Those efforts can boost a site's traffic. For instance, the day after Wal-Mart Stores Inc. (No. 6) posted information about its Black Friday promotion, the site's traffic jumped 15% from the previous day, according to web measurement firm Experian Hitwise.

Some online-only retailers are urging consumers to shop their “Pre-Black-Friday” offers rather than wait until next week. For instance, Dell Inc. (No. 4) today sent an e-mail urging shoppers “Don’t Wait Until Black Friday.” The e-mail suggests that consumers who finish their shopping prior to next weekend can relax and enjoy the holiday season. Similarly, Sierra Trading Post’s (No. 88) home page is dominated by a large hero shot for its Pre-Black Friday sale with the message “Beat The Rush!”

Some online-only sites have sought to stretch out their special offers across the month of November. Overstock.com (No. 27) features daily Pre-Black Friday Redline special offers across a range of categories, including home and garden, bedding and bath, and sports and toys. And Fingerhut.com (No. 94) has a banner “Shop every day like its Black Friday” that highlights the limited quantities of products on sale each Friday. This week, for instance, 37 items went on special, the banner notes. 

Not every retailer is on board with pushing up the start of the holiday shopping season. For instance, Sears Holdings Corp., No. 7 in the Top 500 Guide, says it won’t roll out its special offers until 4 a.m. on Friday so that consumers aren’t “forced to shop at midnight to get the best deals.” Still the retailer this week announced plans to offer more than 900 “doorbuster” deals on Black Friday that consumers can preview on Sears.com.

And TV and web retailer QVC Inc., No. 8 in the Top 500 Guide, is marking its 25th anniversary, which coincidentally falls on the Friday after Thanksgiving, with a “Better Than Black Friday” special event on Friday that will extend into “The Joy of Giving Weekend.” The events will feature special pricing on thousands of products that are in stock so that customers can easily find deals, the retailer says. “The deals are not limited to early bird shoppers who quickly deplete limited Black Friday deals at traditional retail stores,” the retailer says.

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