A global and digital e-retail season

Around the world, e-retailers compete for holiday sales.

Thad Rueter

Call it Christmas, Weihnachten, Noël or Navidad: E-retailers around the world have sprinkled digital snowflakes upon their web sites and trotted out holiday shopping deals. They often mirror the offers seen by U.S. consumers, though with local twists.

Take the biggest e-retail elf of them all, Amazon.com Inc., which is No. 1 in both the Internet Retailer Top 500 Guide, which focuses on North America, and the Top 400 Europe guide. Amazon’s U.K. site this week made relatively liberal use of the word “Christmas,” while the U.S. site focused more on the phrase “Cyber Monday,” which refers to the first workday after the U.S. Thanksgiving holiday, when marketers encourage consumers to shop from work computers.

That’s not to say one of the season’s holy days for shopping went unnoticed outside the United States—CompraFacil, No. 1 in the Top 300 Latin American Guide, this week displayed the term “Cyber Monday” front and center across its e-commerce site—only that U.S. e-retailers were less likely than their foreign peers to use “Christmas” than some variation of Cyber Monday, Cyber Week or Black Friday.  U.K-based Next (via a tab marked “Christmas” that led to seasonal “partywear” and gifts), Germany-based Klingel.de (“Festliche Mode für Weihnacthen”—that is, “festive fashion for Christmas”) and France-based Kiabi.com (“Shopping de Noël”) were among the foreign e-retailers basing their sales pitches around the holiday’s official name.

That’s according to Internet Retailer’s wholly unscientific study of top e-commerce sites in the United States, Europe and Latin America, with editors keeping tabs not only on home pages but also social networks and e-mails to form this year’s ongoing study of how e-retailers are marketing their wares to holiday shoppers.

The review suggests that once you get past the language and labeling differences, there exists a cat-whisker’s worth of difference when it comes to holiday marketing on the web. Take Weltbild.de, a Germany-based online seller of books, DVDs, CDs, home and garden goods and other items. A little girl with golden locks holds a small wrapped gift box, with a tab at bottom—hier klicken—that sends the online shopper to what amounts to a gift center for various Christmas gifts, including toiletries, calendars, commemorative football (that is, soccer) books and gift cards. U.K.-based Tesco.com—the e-commerce version of the grocery and mass merchandise chain—meanwhile has a page that gives a real-time countdown to Christmas along with tips on cooking holiday food and the ability to buy the necessary groceries—as well as wine by the case and items from a more general Christmas gift guide.

Such efforts are close cousin to those found on sites like U.S.-based Buy.com, which, under the home-page label “’Tis the Season,” offered shoppers one-click access to the mass merchandiser’s holiday gift center. Jewelry seller BlueNile.com also made it easier for online shoppers to find holiday gifts through its holiday gift guide. Clicking on it takes the visitor to a page that displays nine large images that the consumer can click on one after the other with gift suggestions and links to product categories such as men’s, women’s and children.

Online holiday gift centers extend to pets, as well—or, in the case of Germany’s Zooplus.de, No. 85 in the Top 400 Europe, to all those hunde und katzen. A rotating hero shot on the pet supplies retailer’s home page showed a dog and cat—laying side by side, no less—under golden Christmas ornaments that seem to confuse the cat but utterly bore the dog. Clicking the image takes the shopper to a selection of gifts that include a furry mat for puppies, along with various types of treats, some of them shaped like candy canes.

Like their U.S. counterparts, many foreign e-retailers also use discounts and shipping offers to bring in holiday sales. Next.co.uk, the U.K. apparel retailer, gave customers the option of free delivery to stores; Marks and Spencer, a U.K. merchant that sells clothes, beauty products, wine and high-end goods, was offering free next-day delivery to its stores for orders made by noon. Apple’s U.K. e-commerce arm advertised free delivery for orders of more than 80 pounds (US$128).  Holiday-themed discounts included 10 euros (US$13) off purchases made by Dec. 3 from Germany’s Klingel.de. LittlewoodsEurope.com, meanwhile, was selling select Christmas toys at half off, while—on a more adult level—apparel retailer Very.co.uk was offering 40% on party dresses, including the sparkly types seen on women for Christmas and New Year’s Eve celebrations. 


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