November 21, 2011, 4:37 PM

Top 500 e-retailers launch a preemptive strike on holiday sales

Many web merchants won’t wait until Thursday—they want the transaction now.

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If consumers are confused about when the online Thanksgiving shopping season officially begins and ends, the timing is crystal clear to many online retailers.

Rather than wait until the Friday after Thanksgiving, also known as Black Friday and the Monday after the holiday weekend, also referred to as Cyber Monday, to offer consumers their best online deals and merchandise, many retailers are making Thanksgiving web shopping a week-long event.

In prior years online retailers planned two distinct strategies for attracting web shoppers on the day after Thanksgiving and the Monday after the Thanksgiving holiday. But now the Thanksgiving online holiday shopping season is starting earlier than ever as retailers scramble to offer big savings and hot merchandise to consumers to get them to buy sooner and in bigger quantities.  "The deals come earlier and continue longer just as the opening for all the stores including some on Thanksgiving," says Lauren Freedman, president of the research and consulting firm The E-tailing Group.

Amazon.com, No. 1 in the Internet Retailer Top 500 Guide and the biggest online retailer, kicked off Thanksgiving week with early deals. Amazon on Monday began offering steep discounts on nearly two dozen popular electronics products including $500 off a Samsung 46-Inch high-definition television and $250 off a Nikon Coolpix P7000 digital camera. Amazon also was offering free basic shipping on eligible orders of $25 and higher.

Other retailers also were offering steep discounts and innovative ways to for early bird-shoppers to make a purchase. For Thanksgiving week, Macy’s Inc. (No. 17) unveiled a pre-holiday sale with discounts of up to 50% over 11 merchandise categories including jewelry, apparel and housewares. Consumers that make an online purchase before Thursday can also enter a special promotion code Macy’s calls the “Gobble” and receive and extra 15% off select jewelry and other items or qualify for free shipping.

Overstock.com is another online retailer looking to get an early start to the Thanksgiving shopping cycle. On Overstock.com (No. 27) consumers can click on a “Pre Black Friday” badge and then browse and purchase electronics at discounts of up to 40% for as long as supplies last. On Monday shoppers could click and buy items such as a color Nook electronic book reader for 40% off or 45% off a refurbished Shark upright vacuum cleaner. With tablet-equipped holiday shoppers in mind, Overstock also introduced last week an iPad shopping app that lets users receive early incentives on their iPad and search for merchandise by top sellers, review ratings, price and new arrivals.

“The fact that a lot more retailers are offering shoppers more Thanksgiving promotions much earlier than ever before isn’t a coincidence because some of the biggest chains and web-only merchants have been planning on doing this for months,” says Paula Rosenblum, managing partner with research and advisory firm Retail Systems Research LLC. “Getting out there early this Thanksgiving is all about capturing more holiday spending market share and setting an aggressive pace for the rest of the holidays.”

Research conducted by Internet Retailer shows that 13 merchants, or 52% of the largest 25 merchants, are offering pre-Thanksgiving sales. They include Amazon, Staples Inc. (No. 2), Office Depot Inc. (No. 3), Walmart.com (No. 6), Sears Holdings Corp. (No. 7), OfficeMax (No. 9), Best Buy Co. (No. 11), SonyStyle.com (No. 14), Costco Wholesale Corp. (No. 16), Macy’s, J.C. Penney Co. (No. 20), Target (No. 22), Systemax (No. 23), Gap Inc. Direct (No. 24) and Williams-Sonoma Inc. (No. 25).

With so many of the biggest online retailers looking to get a head start on the holiday shopping season prior to Thanksgiving, other niche merchants are turning to advanced web site features and social media to help their pre-Thanksgiving sales and promotions stand out. Buy.com (No. 32) on the Sunday prior to Thanksgiving began steeply discounting certain items, such as Blackberry Playbook tablets at 49%off., Buy.com also included video reviews and buyer’s guides in its e-mail promotions. Buy.com also offered other early bird incentives such as no restocking fee, a 45-day return policy and free shipping.

“A lot of retailers are out there early this year looking to jump-start consumer spending even before Thanksgiving, and get more aggressive going after wallet share,” says Buy.com CEO Neel Grover. ‘We found out that early shoppers don’t just want the best price, they also want to make an informed buying decision. By offering shoppers a great price and lots of ways to be smart about buying earlier, we can create a competitive advantage.”

Some retailers began planning their pre-Thanksgiving online sales strategy as early as last spring, says Rosenblum. “This whole trend has been pre-planned because retailers had to decide a long time ago what their promotional strategy was going to be and then secure or redeploy the inventory to make it happen,” she says. “The big question now is after they’ve secured their share of early sales, what will consumers have left to spend the rest of this holiday shopping season?”

 

 

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