Smaller e-retailers delay decking their sites with holiday promotions

November 13, 2015 12:28 PM

While some large retailers like Wal-Mart Stores Inc., Best Buy Co. Inc. and Target Corp. are decked out for the holiday season with deals and promotions in full swing, many smaller e-retailers have yet to show their holiday spirit.

About 37% of the midsized 100 North American e-retailers Internet Retailer is analyzing as part of its ongoing coverage of the 2015 holiday season have holiday messaging on their website or social media channels. An even smaller portion of the group is offering holiday discounts. One exception to that trend is home furnishing site, No. 734 in the Internet Retailer 2015 Second 500, which is offering 50% off select items as part of what it’s calling a “Black Friday preview.”

Retailers that hold back on holiday deals may be missing out on early holiday activity. Consumers are expected to spend more online this season, according to a report from Forrester Research Inc.. U.S. online sales for November and December 2015 will be $95.5 billion, an 11% increase from a year earlier, Forrester projects. While web sales are typically 10% of overall retail sales throughout the year, online sales will account for 15% of holiday sales during November and December, according to Forrester. 

Retailers in the Internet Retailer Second 500 Guide with a head start on the holiday season include Dollar General Corp. (No. 790), which is offering 25% off toys; electronics retailer Conn’s Inc. (No. 601), which has started its Black Friday deal of 0% interest for 36 months; and jewelry and accessories retailer Charming Charlie (No. 764), which is running a social holiday promotion giving away gift boxes with accessories to five customers who use the hashtag #CharmThem each week. Speedo International Ltd. (No. 681), Gump’s Inc. (No. 583), Spencer Gifts LLC (No. 743), Francesca’s (No. 750) and Stein Mart Inc. (No. 696) are among retailers with gift guides on their websites.   

Many of the smaller retailers are like Poppin, however, which is waiting till closer to the holidays to unveil any holiday promotions or messaging. The web-only office supplies retailer (No. 568), says it won’t release holiday deals until Thanksgiving week because it has found success using a small window for discounts in the past. “We have to protect our margins and be mindful of that,” says Sven Tarantik, the retailer’s vice president of marketing. “Giving away discounts for the sake of it—we just don’t have the same enthusiasm as big-box stores from our customer base over that long of a period.” Running deals during a shorter time frame creates a sense of urgency for Poppin’s customers to make purchases, Tarantik says.

What’s more, Poppin has experienced backlash to having a holiday-themed website, says Meredith Zenkel, the retailer’s director of marketing and public relations. “In the past we have had a complete site takeover with red and green, but we found that it was more disruptive to our repeat customers than anything,” Zenkel says. Most customers come to knowing what they’re looking for, so any change to the website—even as minor as changing colors and adding gift bows—can disturb the customer journey on the site, Zenkel says.

Retro memorabilia e-retailer has not started promoting holiday deals either, but it’s not because customers don’t buy during the season.

“We used to not have any promotions or deals at all because we couldn’t keep up with the high demand during the holidays,” says Kevin Stecko, president and founder of (No. 705). But when the web-only T-shirt retailer has not advertised holiday deals, it has caused a separate issue.

“Within the last five years, if we don’t have discounts for the holidays like Cyber Monday, Black Friday or Free Shipping day, we get complaints from our customers for not doing anything,” Stecko says. “For example, when we don’t promote anything on our website for Free Shipping day, we get calls all day asking if we are offering free shipping and if not, why not?”

Like Poppin, will start promoting holiday deals the week of Thanksgiving. Upcoming deals will include free shipping on an entire purchase in particular categories. 




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