October 11, 2013, 12:33 PM

Early arrival

Some retailers are launching festive sales as early as late October.

Lead Photo

Consumers across the nation will be busy on Nov. 28. Some will be loosening their belts after an epic Thanksgiving feast. Others will be occupied lighting the family menorah. Still others will look to squeeze in a little of both.

In a rare occurrence, the first day of Hanukkah and Thanksgiving fall on the same day this year, a calendar anomaly that hasn’t happened since the late 1800s. As most gifts are exchanged on the first day of the eight-day celebration, that means a lot of Hanukkah shopping will be shifted forward to before Thanksgiving.

And that’s not the only significant schedule shift from last year’s holiday shopping season. Retailers need to snap up sales fast this season as there are only 26 days this year between Thanksgiving and Christmas, compared with 32 days in 2012. What’s more, consumers have four, not five, full weekends in that timeframe to snag gifts.
The triple threat of a shorter Christmas shopping season, early Hanukkah and late Thanksgiving has several online retailers launching holiday campaigns and promotions earlier this year—some as early as later this month. These merchants don’t want to miss out on Hanukkah sales by waiting until after Thanksgiving to launch major promotions. They also want to entice Christmas shoppers to start their gift-buying early so they can grow holiday sales despite a significantly shorter run-up to Christmas.

Online prepaid photo scanning e-retailer ScanMyPhotos.com is one retailer coming out of the gate early—before Halloween—with an Oct. 21 Cyber Monday event targeting Hanukkah buyers. The typical Cyber Monday is the Monday after Thanksgiving when many shoppers head back to work and—harking back to the days before broadband was common in U.S. homes—U.S. web retailers offer steep discounts to capture holiday gift sales. However, because Hanukkah this year occurs extra early, on Thanksgiving, the traditional Cyber Monday comes too late for Hanukkah shoppers to take advantage of, says Mitch Goldstone, president and CEO of ScanMyPhotos.com.

ScanMyPhotos.com will notify existing ScanMyPhotos.com customers and those who sign up for free discounts and specials via the retailer’s web site by Oct. 18 about Cyber Monday Discount in an e-mail sent by Oct. 21. The retailer will also promote the event via social media. Goldstone wouldn’t reveal details of the promotion.

Goldstone says past consumer surveys show that 25% of ScanMyPhotos.com’s holiday sales are related to Hanukkah. Many of those sales likely come from families ordering photos to share and incorporate into their Hanukkah traditions, he says. 

“A new tradition is when families gather together and share all those generations of nostalgic photo memories,” Goldstone says. “They share stories and oftentimes record the emotional narratives about the stories behind each memory.”

Goldstone isn’t alone. T-shirt e-retailer RibbedTee.com is also planning on launching its major holiday sales campaign around Oct. 21, says Mike Schwarz, founder and CEO of RibbedTee Designs. It’s launching early to draw in Hanukkah shoppers and also to stand out from the competition, he says.

“Our plan is to give the promotion a unique name so that it won't be confusing. If we say Cyber Monday or Black Friday it already implies a date,” Schwarz says. “So we're trying to come up with something that may be fun enough to catch on. Since Monday and Friday are already taken, my thoughts are to set it to start on another day of the week.”

RibbedTee will offer a clearance sale and a limited-time discount offer for most of the rest of its products not on clearance, Schwarz says.   

“We want to be in front of all the upcoming holiday special offer noise that consumers will be exposed to starting in a few short weeks,” he says. “Compared to the larger brands with larger marketing budgets, it's imperative for smaller, younger brands like us to do everything we can to get our customer's attention with the limited marketing budgets we have. One strategy is to enable and promote our holiday offers well in advance of others.”

Southern California web retailer and apparel chain Planet Blue is also starting promotions early with a “Planet Blue Friday” and the launch of a gift center on its e-commerce site in early November, says Eugene Kang, vice president of e-commerce for Planet Blue, No. 867 in the Internet Retailer Second 500 Guide.

“Because of the lateness of Black Friday and Hanukkah starting earlier, we anticipate retailers starting earlier with promotions,” Kang says. “Black Friday sales were already creeping earlier and earlier, and due to holiday timing this year, it should be no different.”

While some retailers are coming out of the gate early, at least one industry expert says that many of the e-retailers he has spoken with aren’t well prepared for the shortest runway to Christmas since 2002.“One thing that strikes me as surprising as well as concerning is the lack of preparedness for a very short holiday season,” Udayan Bose, CEO of search engine marketing firm NetElixir, writes in a blog post on holiday sales. “Most retailers that I met with are still unable to fully fathom the impact of one less week or 25% less time on online demand.”

Online retail sales increased 18.4% in Q2, according to the U.S. Commerce Department. Assuming that this pace of growth continues through the holiday season, retailers will have to be ready for around 20% in extra sales in a shorter amount of time, Bose says, as many shoppers wait to the last minute to buy gifts. “That’s a big impact on each and every aspect of your e-commerce engine–whether it is marketing or shipping or inventory management and forecasting.”

He adds that because such a short holiday shopping season hasn’t occurred for more than a decade, many retailers will have a difficult time predicting sales trends and consumer shopping behaviors this year. “Most retailers do not have the ability to accurately forecast for a holiday season that barely has precedence in terms of number of days, volume of transactions and buyer preferences,” he says.

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