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Shop.org: Online retailers and consumers looking to start holiday shopping early - and often

Washington  - It looks like Santa will be smiling on online retailers this holiday, with almost two-thirds of them expecting their sales to increase 15% or more versus last year when less than half were as optimistic.

Specifically, 63.8% of online stores said they expect their company's online sales to grow over last year compared with holiday 2009's 45.8%.

That is what the NRF's digital retail division, Shop.org, found in its recent eHoliday Study, which was conducted by consumer research firm Bigresearch and surveyed 2,583 consumers from September 19 to Oct. 4 and 51 online retailers from Sept. 1 to 27.

"Retailers continue to see the web as a bright spot in the industry and are putting the finishing touches on new site features so their customers will have good experiences when shopping online this holiday season," said Fiona Swerdlow, Shop.org head of research. "In addition to using websites to bring in sales, retailers are leveraging the internet to encourage shoppers to head to nearby stores, featuring store locator information, product availability, and store circulars on their websites."

The study also found shoppers and online retailers alike are preparing as early as Halloween for the holidays. As many as 40% of online retailers said they will begin holiday marketing by Oct. 31st and another 40% percent are planning to begin marketing the week of November 1.

"Even though online retailers are expecting strong holiday sales, they're not planning to abandon some of the web's most alluring incentives, including free shipping," Shop.org said. Four out of five - or 84.8% -- of online retailers will offer free shipping at some point during the holiday season, and nearly one-third (31.4%) said these offers will begin earlier this year than a year ago. Shoppers may even see more free shipping deals this year, as 36.7% of retailers said their budget for free shipping is higher than last holiday season.

"As online retail continues to grow, companies have been investing in site features and services to maximize their holiday sales," including social media, Shop.org added, as the majority of retailers -- 72.5% - said they have invested in the company's Facebook page in advance of the holidays. Additionally, more than half (54.9%) said they have invested in cross-selling on product pages and site search, and 52.9% in customer ratings and reviews. Another 43.1% of retailers said they have invested more this holiday season in a Twitter campaign or Twitter feed.

"Online retailers know shoppers care about low prices and free shipping, but they also appreciate the ability to easily find gift ideas or shop around the clock," said Phil Rist, evp, strategic initiatives, Bigresearch. "Instead of trying to entice shoppers to come to them, retailers will be leveraging social media in an even more vibrant way this holiday season to reach consumers where they already are: Facebook, Twitter and YouTube."

About one-third, or 32.2%, of online shoppers said they'll make more of their holiday purchases on the web this year, listing 24-hour convenience (35.1%), easy price comparisons (33.1%) and a lack of desire to fight the crowds (30.8%) among their primary motivators. Online shoppers who said they'll spend less of their holiday budget online than a year ago - 6.1% - cited expensive shipping charges (19.2%), a preference to see or handle an item before purchasing (13.9%) or not wanting to wait for the item to be delivered (5.7%).

 

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