October 29, 2013, 4:03 PM

Free shipping—it’s not just for the holidays anymore

34.9% of e-retailers give the gift of free shipping all year long, says a new report.

Lead Photo

More retailers are spreading holiday cheer throughout the year. At least, that is, when it comes to free shipping.

Free shipping isn’t just a gift that shows up as the weather gets brisk and November approaches, according to new research from Shop.org, the online retail arm of retail trade association the National Retail Federation. In a survey involving 91 retailers that Shop.org polled earlier this year about their holiday promotions and plans, 34.9% of respondents said they already offer free shipping all year, compared with 23.1% a year earlier. Of the rest of the retailers that do not offer free shipping all year, 16.3% said they would begin offering it as a holiday promotion this week.

Additionally, more than half (51.2%) of online retailers surveyed planned to start their online holiday marketing promotions by Halloween. Retailers realize they 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. 31.8% plan to offer discounts earlier than they did last year.

Shop.org arrived at its findings through a survey of 47 online retailers conducted by Prosper Insights & Analytics between June 10 and June 27, and another 44 online retailers between Sept. 4 and Sept. 23.  

When it comes to shipping and delivery, consumers care about more than just the price tag, other research reveals.  A poll of 1,000 consumers from e-commerce platform provider MarketLive Inc. about their online holiday shopping preferences finds 91% say they would likely take advantage of free standard shipping offer and nearly a third (31%) say free shipping is an incentive that would prompt them to pay full price for an order. However, 87% say a guarantee that an item will be delivered by the date promised is a top customer service priority. 72% say the option to buy or reserve a product online or via their mobile device for pickup in a store is the cross-channel shopping feature that is most or second-most important to them.

65% of online shoppers in that survey also say the option to give a gift card or gift certificate is one of the most important online gifting options and 52% say the same about a Wish List or registry feature that allows them to find out what others want.

When it comes to loyalty, 90% of MarketLive survey respondents say the lowest price makes them most loyal to retailers, 38% say loyalty and rewards programs and 51% say good overall customer service.

“Online shoppers have become quite savvy. They know how to comparison shop from their mobile phones and they have come to expect certain things like free shipping,” says Ken Burke, founder and chairman of MarketLive. “But our survey also uncovered many tactical things that online retailers can do this holiday season—like tangible gift cards,  24/7 customer service reps and online ratings and social sharing—to attract customers, retain margins, and compete successfully this holiday season.”

Retailers are also using small screens in hopes of driving big holiday sales, Shop.org finds in its survey of online retailers. 55.3% of retailers are optimizing e-mail for mobile as part of their holiday marketing strategies. 44.7% will use smartphone paid search campaigns, 21.3% text message campaigns, and 17.0% QR codes or other bar code scanning promotions.


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