November 26, 2013, 8:24 AM

European e-retailers get the holiday spirit

Retailers across the pond focus on fulfillment to drive holiday sales.

Lead Photo

Mid-October typically conjures up thoughts of the first flush of fall and the dreaded task of packing away the shorts and T-shirts in exchange for jeans and boots.  But by Oct. 14, barely halfway through October, U.K. retailer Marks & Spencer already had Christmas on its mind.

That is the day the mass merchant, No. 18 in the Internet Retailer Europe 500, began offering free delivery through Dec. 25 to 14 countries, including the U.S., Australia and Canada. The goal of the program, which comes with minimum purchase requirements depending on the ship-to country, is to encourage U.K. shoppers to buy and ship gifts to loved ones overseas, a Marks & Spencer spokeswoman says.  Australia is the chain’s biggest international ship-to market for the holidays, followed by the U.S., she says.  For packages heading to Australia the promotion offers free 10-to-14-day delivery on orders totaling more than 30 pounds (US $48.46). For packages headed to the U.S., the minimum purchase price is the same and the package will arrive between seven and 10 days.

Internet Retailer editors took a look at the holiday sales strategies of the Top 100 retailers in the Internet Retailer Europe 500 to get a snapshot of what some of the most successful online merchants in the region are doing to drive sales over the holidays. Many, like Marks & Spencer, hone in on shipping. But several went beyond just the delivery price tag. Some guarantee items on the site are in stock and ready to be shipped, while others tout the option to pick up items ordered online in stores in as little as an hour and others offer free returns.

Free shipping is a moot point if a consumer is informed after purchasing a thoughtful gift that it is out of stock or on backorder and won’t be under the Christmas tree by Dec. 25. That’s why European retailer, No. 50 in the Internet Retailer Europe 500 guide, highlights right on its home page that all that all its inventory on the site is in stock.

Beyond assuring shoppers that the items marketed on site are available to be shipped immediately,, which sells appliances, such as washing machines and refrigerators, is also advertising free returns for 90 days and payment by installments., an electronics and appliance retailer that ranks No. 51 in the Europe Top 500, looks to save store shoppers time. The site features a blog post highlighting the option for consumers to buy online and pick up in store in one hour to get their gifts fast and avoid waiting in store lines. Shoppers retrieve their web items at lockers in the stores, so they can avoid queues, the post reads.

France-based computer and electronics retailer, No. 56, highlights free shipping, 15 days to return items for a full refund, and the ability to pay in installments with a credit card. Germany-based pet supply retailer, No. 55, meanwhile, promotes free shipping on orders throughout Germany totaling more than 19 euros (US $25.67).

Another large German retailer,, which ranks No. 2 in the Europe 500 and sells apparel and accessories, highlights 0% financing through Christmas Day on its e-commerce site., which is right behind Otto at No. 3 in the Europe 500, is offering one-third off online on select items and free shipping for orders over 30 pounds (US $48.46).

Members-only site French site, highlights fast (but not free) shipping. The home page of the luxury apparel retailer, No. 77 in the Europe 500, features a snowy image with reindeer. As the home page loads, a card on a string drops down in the center of the page with a note promising delivery within 72 hours. “We’ll make it happen for you in only 72,” it reads.

While many European retailers are employing free shipping, flexible delivery options and financing to encourage shoppers to buy with them, other retailers are turning on a little film fashion creativity., a luxury apparel retailer that is No. 80 in the Europe 500, lets visitors shop directly from an elegant video titled “A Dinner Party in Milano,” which features a family gathering at home for the holidays, with Italian music on the soundtrack. Clicking on several of the outfits worn by people in the video, or clicking products such as the cutlery on the dining table, lets a shopper either add the product to a wish list or navigate to a product page where she can purchase.

With a typical dress featured on easily carrying a price tag of 200 pounds, (US $322.90) it seems the retailer opted to woo shoppers with lust-worthy fashion and creativity rather than waive shipping fees. Although on its U.K. e-commerce site, shoppers get a free upgrade to 2-to-3-day express delivery for orders of 150 pounds (US $242.17) or more.


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