December 14, 2011, 5:01 PM

Many retail routes to holiday cheer

Three e-retailers explain what’s helped them push sales up 20% or more this year.

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Amid the solid growth in online sales so far this year, individual retailers are taking a variety of approaches to spark their own numbers.

While total U.S. e-commerce sales rose between about 14% and 17% year over year through the first three quarters of this year, a number of individual retailers have well exceeded those numbers and continue to show sharp rises into the fourth quarter and the all-important holiday shopping season.

Take evo, a retailer of sports gear that sells mostly online. “We’re showing 30-35% growth this year,” says Nathan Decker, head of e-commerce. “Black Friday was a record day, and we more doubled that growth on Cyber Monday. It surprised a lot of us. We kept hitting the refresh button at 9 p.m. that Monday, we couldn’t believe how many sales were coming in.” Black Friday and Cyber Monday are the Friday and Monday following Thanksgiving.

But it wasn’t as if evo hadn’t worked hard to get those sales. Throughout the year, it had planted seeds to grow its e-mail file and expand its Facebook fan base to extend the reach of its marketing  campaigns. In several contests designed to appeal to the sports passions of its customers, for example, it grew its number of Facebook followers fivefold, to 20,000 from 4,000 a year ago, and gained about 25,000 new e-mail addresses.

In some contests, for instance, evo worked with ski suppliers like Salomon and Rossignol to offer a sweepstakes giveaway of ski equipment sets valued from $700 to $1,000. Another sweepstakes offered an all-expenses-paid skiing trip to Japan, including a full set of new ski gear. Evo promoted the contests through multiple channels, including e-mail, its web site and skiing magazines.

Decker will speak at the 2012 Internet Retailer Web Site Design and Usability Conference in Orlando in a session titled “Beyond Best Practices: Using Innovation to Take Your Design to the Next Level."

Other online retailers point to other factors driving up their sales.

At Wine.com, No. 239 in the Internet Retailer Top 500 Guide, sales through November were up 20-25% year over year, says CEO Rich Bergsund. He attributes part of that rise to the ongoing, if slow, shift of wine sales from stores to online. But it’s also a result of Wine.com’s constant improvements including better product assortment, pricing and delivery services, plus new software that helps shoppers sort through the extensive information Wine.com offers on different types of wines. “We help consumers learn more about wine,” Bergsund says.

At Carolina Rustica, an online furniture retailer that also sells through a single physical store at its Concord, NC, headquarters, sales this year are running 40% over last year’s, CEO Richard Sexton says. While Carolina Rustica gets a lot of sales through Internet search engines and affiliate networks, Sexton attributes a lot of that growth to the high re-order rate of long-time customers that have become accustomed to the retailer’s quality products and customer service.

Carolina Rustica, No. 684 in the Internet Retailer Second 500 Guide, has strived to maintain levels of product quality and service at a time when the general downturn in the housing market has has led other sellers to offer cheaper products, Sexton says. The company has also upgraded its Concord showroom while also promoting it on its web site, which helps to generate more cross-channel store and web sales, he adds.

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