NRF Survey Says 2011 Online Holiday Sales Will Grow, and Start Early

Will the holiday season be a happy one in the ecommerce channel? Merchants are indicating a very merry year. According to Shop.org’s eHoliday survey conducted by BIGresearch, 68% of retailers say they expect their company’s online sales to grow at least 15% or more compared to last holiday season, up from the 63.8% who had those expectations last year.

The survey of 1,685 consumers and 51 online retailers was conducted from Sept. 22 to Oct. 14, and is supported by new data from the National Retail Federation, which found the average shopper plans to do about 36.0% of their holiday shopping online, up from 32.7% last year.

Free shipping offers will be more common this holiday season as 92.5% say they plan on offering the service at some point, up from 84.8% in 2010. Nearly one-third (31.4%) of those surveyed say their free shipping offers would start earlier in the season compared to last year. Additionally, 56.3% say their budget for free shipping promotions specifically is somewhat or significantly higher than last year.

Like their store counterparts, online merchants say they will begin promoting the holiday season earlier this year. The survey found more than half (52.9%) plan to start their online holiday marketing and promotions by Halloween, up from the 40% who planned to do so last year. Another 37.2% will begin marketing by mid-November.

When it comes to online retailers’ holiday season priorities, many have already invested in new technologies and site and service features. More than half (51.0%) said they have significantly invested in mobile-optimized websites and 19.6% have invested in tablet device apps. Additionally, 35.3% said they have significantly invested in QR codes in offline advertising, such as magazine ads and billboards.

Of those who regularly use social media platforms, nearly three-quarters say they have already invested in their Facebook (72.5%) and Twitter (41.2%) accounts in advance of the holidays.

When asked why they plan to spend more online this holiday season, four in 10 shoppers (43.2%) said 24-hour convenience is a main consideration. More shoppers this year are also interested in shopping online as a direct result of free shipping offers – 36.3% will spend more online this year if shipping comes free. Other reasons include their lack of desire to fight crowds in the stores (37.2%) and the ease of comparing prices (29.6%).

Consumers will get information about retailers’ sales and promotions from a variety of channels. The survey found nearly three in 10 (29.2%) will check out a company’s Facebook page for more information and about two-thirds (65.1%) will read customer reviews on the company’s website.

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