An e-retailer plans an online holiday telethon

November 8, 2011 04:18 PM

Pet products e-retailer Drs. Foster & Smith says it will entice holiday shoppers with deep discounts, giveaways and four hours of live streaming video entertainment to kick off sales the day following Thanksgiving, commonly referred to as Black Friday and the traditional kickoff day for holiday gift purchases. It will run a second round of programming and deals the Monday following Thanksgiving, also known as Cyber Monday.

The e-retailer, No. 115 in Internet Retailer’s Top 500 Guide, says it will start promoting its Black Friday and Cyber Monday sales events next week via social media and e-mail, and unveil on Nov. 18 which products will be discounted 50% or more.

Gordon Magee, the e-retailer's Internet marketing and media manager, says the eight hours of video content the e-retailer will create live and stream from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Central on Friday, Nov. 25 and Monday, Nov. 28, and the products it will promote during the broadcast, will be the cornerstone of the e-retailer’s holiday weekend activities. While the e-retailer regularly records video interviews with its staff veterinarians about pet health and pet care issues and includes them on and YouTube, this is the e-retailer’s first attempt at creating content live. It began planning for the live broadcast in early October.

“This is a huge undertaking for us,” Magee says. “The technical expertise required for a live stream is very different to posting a pre-recorded video.”

Magee says the e-retailer had to purchase switching equipment so it can switch among the three cameras it will use during the live broadcast. It is also setting up two holiday-decorated studio sets and a temporary command center where staff can monitor the production. Magee says equipment and labor costs for the program total about $10,000, plus the time investment of existing employees. Content delivery vendor Akamai Technologies will host and deliver the live feed. Since the bandwidth-draining video content won’t be running through the e-retailer’s own servers, Magee says he expects no slowdown on’s own site performance due to the video feed during the big sales weekend. The e-retailer’s top sales day ever happened on Cyber Monday last year. Magee says that there will be about 50% more products on sale and at greater discounts than the same weekend a year ago.

The e-retailer hopes the combination of live programming, giveaways and discounts will help it exceed those sales this year. Magee says the four hours of programming each day will be broken into 15-minute slots. During each 15-minute segment, the hosts will talk about the featured discount and consumers watching the stream or visiting the site will be encouraged to submit their e-mail addresses to participate in a giveaway for that product.

Each sweepstakes will only run for that 15 minutes and winners will be notified immediately. Winners will receive a unique coupon code to enter on the site and also get an additional 10% off any other products in their orders. Losers, and everyone else, will still be able to purchase the item for at least 50% off during the broadcast and until 3 p.m. The giveaway schedule will be published ahead of time so consumers can time their visit to the site to correspond to the giveaways they find most appealing. The majority of giveaways will focus on dog and cat items, the e-retailer’s most popular pet areas, but there will also be segments and giveaways for fish and bird content and products.

The 15-minute segments will also include live question-and-answer sessions with veterinarians; the e-retailer will field questions submitted from consumers via social networks and e-mail.

“The two things that distinguish our company is the educational expertise we have from our veterinarians, and the wide breadth of product selection and guarantees we have,” Magee says. “We wanted to incorporate those things into our content.” Brief pre-recorded content will appear between segments, and a pre-recorded Thanksgiving welcome and thank-you message from the e-retailer’s founders, Dr. Race Foster and Dr. Marty Smith will air at the start of each 15 minute period, Magee says.

Since this is the e-retailer’s first attempt at generating a live broadcast for its customers, Magee says he’s not entirely sure how consumers will respond, but that everyone involved at the e-retailer’s headquarters in Rhinelander, WI, is optimistic. “We think that if Friday goes over well, things can really pop on Monday as word spreads,” he says. 





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