November 4, 2013, 9:27 AM

Fresh for the holidays

Younger, fast-growing retailers start holiday promotions early.

Lead Photo

The typical holiday shopper doesn’t discriminate. Most consumers don’t care whether a retailer is big or small or new or old, they simply want to find a thoughtful gift that they can easily purchase at a competitive price. Now that October is over and consumers are beginning to think of their gift lists rather than their Halloween costumes, retailers are stepping up their games to convince shoppers to spend their dollars with them.

Internet Retailer editors took a look at early holiday sales strategies of the fastest-growing retailers in the Internet Retailer Top 500 Guide to get a snapshot of what some of the most successful merchants are doing to drive sales over the holidays. Many of the fastest-growing retailers are newer to retail world. That means they are fighting against household names such as Walmart.com, No. 4 in the Internet Retailer Top 500 Guide, and Newegg.com, No. 14. That can be an uphill battle as they not only have to get consumers to recognize them, but also convince them they are reliable and offer a wide selection of merchandise at the same or lower prices than their more established competitors.

Furniture, art and home décor flash-sale retailer Fab.com is not looking to Christmas quite yet for holiday sales, but to Hanukkah. 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.

To drive Hanukkah sales, Fab.com has launched a "Better than Gelt" Hanukkah-related promotion. Hanukkah gelt refers to money as well as chocolate coins given to Jewish children on the festival of Hanukkah. A hero shot in a scrolling home page banner features the promotion and a click on the hero image brings shoppers to a page with Hanukkah-related gifts and décor.  “Up all night to get latkes? We’ve found some amazing Hanukkah gifts and decor for your loved ones (and yourself!) that will make faces light up ’til they’re eight times brighter: spirited nosh-ware and chef-wear, hand-dipped candles and artful menorahs, holiday sweaters that trade Christmas trees for Catskills trees, and more,” the page reads. It also cross promotes its Better than Gelt sale on Facebook and Twitter. Fab.com is No. 150 in the Internet Retailer Top 500 Guide and the third-fastest growing retailer in the guide, growing its sales 653.8%, from 2011 to 2012, from $19.9 million to $150 million, according to Internet Retailer estimates.

One Kings Lane, No. 120 in the Internet Retailer Top 500 Guide and another flash-sale home décor retailer, is coming out of the gate early with a unique holiday shipping promotion. Consumers can pay $9.95 now for standard shipping on any purchase and receive free shipping throughout the holiday season. One Kings Lane grew its sales 100% last year, from $100 million in 2011 to $200 million in 2012.

King Arthur Flour, No. 359 in the Internet Retailer Top 500 Guide and a retailer of baking products, is taking to Facebook to promote the holidays. Its Facebook page encourages visitors to “Jump-start holiday gift baking and enter to win $500.” Consumers can like King Arthur Flour on Facebook to enter the sweepstakes. King Arthur Flour grew its sales 102.2% in 2012, to $35.19 million from $17.4 million in 2011, according to Internet Retailer estimates.

While not a web-only retailer, Nebraska Furniture Mart, No. 377 in the Internet Retailer Top 500 Guide, is growing fast online and is also promoting the holiday early. The retail chain, which grew its web sales 59% last year, from $20.56 million in 2011 to $32.70 million in 2012, according to Internet Retailer estimates, sent an e-mail to shoppers Oct. 30 reading: “Start Your Early Holiday Shopping.” A click on a link in the message connects shoppers to a part of the retailer’s site that sells holiday-themed decorations, and also promotes flexible financing and early holiday savings.

Fast-growing retailers realize they need to start promoting their holiday sales now as the big guns are getting an early start on promoting holiday deals to online shoppers. Both Walmart.com and Newegg.com last week began holiday marketing in full force. Wal-Mart, No. 4 in the Internet Retailer Top 500 Guide, launched what it says is its earliest “Holiday Cyber Event Ever” with online savings typically reserved for Black Friday (the day after Thanksgiving) and Cyber Monday (the Monday after Thanksgiving). Deals include a 42-inch TV for $299 and a 10-inch tablet for $49. It is also offering free shipping for orders over $50 on nearly 99% of items Wal-Mart sells on its own behalf on Walmart.com, and more than half of the items sold by outside retailers on the Walmart.com marketplace. Wal-Mart has also tripled the number of items to that customers can order online and pick up in a store the same day to 70,000. Customers can be the first to learn about Wal-Mart's holiday deals through the season by signing up for the retailer's e-mails, liking Wal-Mart on Facebook or downloading the mobile app.

"We know that our customers start shopping for the holidays on Nov. 1 because historically our traffic spikes the day after Halloween," says Joel Anderson, president and CEO of Walmart.com. "Customers want to relax with friends and family during the holidays, and with our early deals we are helping them make the most of their time and helping them stretch their dollars further."

Wal-Mart's mobile shoppers can also access their local circulars and a store map to help them plan their next local store visit via their smartphones. Mobile devices accounted for 40% of Walmart.com holiday traffic last year, a number the retailer expects to increase even more this holiday season.

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