October 24, 2011, 4:11 PM

Retailers craft holiday deals

More e-retailers this year plan to offer the free shipping that consumers increasingly expect.

Lead Photo

More than 92% of e-retailers say they’ll offer consumers free shipping on orders during the holiday gift-buying season, up from about 85% that said the same last year, according to survey results released today by Shop.org, the e-retail arm of the National Retail Federation trade group.

That news comes as FedEx Corp. says it expects to deliver more than 260 million packages worldwide between Thanksgiving and Christmas, up 12% from a year ago. FedEx says shipments from online retailers will account for a large portion of that volume.

Consumers cite free shipping as a primary incentive to shop online. 74% of online consumers responding to a holiday survey from consulting firm Accenture in September said the biggest incentive for shopping online is free shipping, and 59% said they’d do most of their holiday shopping online this year.

That’s good news for e-retailers, who are heading into the season more optimistic than they were at this time last year. 68% of e-retailers in the Shop.org survey say they expect online sales will increase 15% or more from last season. A year ago, about 64% said the same.  The findings are based on responses from 51 e-retailers to a survey conducted in late September and early October.

Retailers are also eager to get holiday sales rolling, even though consumers think they’ll find the best deals if they wait until Thanksgiving weekend. More than half of e-retailers, 53%, say they plan to start their holiday marketing and promotions by Oct. 31, up from 40% that said the same last year, according to the Shop.org survey. Another 37% say they’ll start by mid-November.

However, the results of a survey of more than 3,000 online shoppers released today by comparison shopping site PriceGrabber reveals consumers think the best deals will come later in the holiday shopping season. 29% of respondents say they’ll find the best deals after the Thanksgiving holiday, while 28% say they’ll find the best deals on the day after Thanksgiving, commonly called Black Friday. 28% of respondents expect to find the best deals in December, and 15% say the best deals will come the Monday after Thanksgiving, also known as Cyber Monday. More than half of the consumers in the PriceGrabber survey, 52%, say they expect to spend $500 or more on gifts for the holidays.

“There’s no question consumers are eager to hit the web this holiday season, and online retailers are prepping by optimizing their sites, beginning their marketing and promotions early and planning plenty of free shipping promotions,” says Fiona Swerdlow, head of research at Shop.org.

More than half, or 56%, of e-retailers in the Shop.org survey say they’ve allotted more budget for free shipping promotions this holiday season from last.

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