Exhausted after hitting the malls this weekend? It's time for Cyber Monday, the traditional start of the online holiday shopping season.
With an uncertain retail outlook this year, more shoppers are expected to go to the Web to research products, find gift ideas and compare prices, industry people say. The National Retail Federation estimates that the "average person" will do 36 percent of this legwork online this year, up from 33 percent last year, based on annual surveys. The typical online shopper spends 20 percent more in a web transaction than a shopper at a store, the group estimates.
Given all that, more retailers are working to attract shoppers online, boosting free-shipping offers, launching online promotions earlier in the season, and expanding social media and mobile platforms. U.S. online shopping is expected to increase 12 to 15 percent this holiday season compared with the last.
"Retailers who can capture the hearts and minds of consumers before leaving home put themselves in a better position to capture the sale," Dean Tarpley, head of the retail practice for the Dallas consulting firm Alvarez & Marsal, told reporters during a recent conference call to discuss the holiday outlook.
Even though the Monday after Thanksgiving represents the cyber kickoff -- the retailers federation estimates that 107 million Americans shopped online on Cyber Monday last year -- more retailers were out in front by Halloween this year.
In a Shop.org survey of retailers earlier in the fall, 52.9 percent said they planned to start online promotions by Halloween, up from 40 percent last year. An additional 37.2 percent said they expected to begin online marketing by mid-November.
Nine in 10 online retailers said in the survey they expected to offer free shipping at some point this holiday season, up from 84.8 percent in 2010. Nearly one third -- 31.4 percent -- said they expected to begin free-shipping offers earlier, and 56.3 percent said their free-shipping budget was at least somewhat higher.
At the Container Store, the popular 53-store chain, shoppers get free shipping on $100 orders of stocking stuffers. "We've had great success with that in the past, so we have continued it," said Catherine Davis, the company's director of direct marketing.
The company has put a calculator on its website so customers can figure how much of an item, such as ribbon or jars, they need to complete a project. Partners also provide recipes on the site.
The site includes a Click & Pickup feature so customers can buy online and pick up at a store. Fifteen percent of web transactions are now for pickup in a store, Davis said.
Brick-and-mortar stores have increasingly been offering such features as the ability to order online or return merchandise at a store that they bought online.
"The consumer will buy something online, and they want the ability to return it at the store," said Ed Tauriac, Mid-America regional leader for the consumer business practice at Deloitte.
Eleven percent of respondents in a Deloitte poll of more than 5,000 consumers in September said they expected to spend more online this holiday season than last year. Fifty-seven percent said they expected to spend the same, and 32 percent less.
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