Online Retailers Can't Wait to Snare Shoppers

Best Buy is promoting deals for a Sony PlayStation 2 -- but not yet.  The company cracked down on leaks of its holiday circular. (AP)
Best Buy is promoting deals for a Sony PlayStation 2 -- but not yet. The company cracked down on leaks of its holiday circular. (AP) (Associated Press)

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By Yuki Noguchi and Ylan Q. Mui
Washington Post Staff Writers
Friday, November 17, 2006

Buy more, get free shipping! Tell the whole Web about your favorite brand! Bust down that virtual door and grab the limited supply of Xbox 360s!

Thanksgiving, starting point for the holiday shopping race, is still six days away, but the online marketing frenzy is already upon us, pushing, prodding, poking: Shop early, shop often, and oh, by the way! -- the Internet is open 24-7.

Here's Amazon.com, with its "door-buster" promotion, asking customers to vote on their most-desired item from a selection -- Xbox 360, mountain bike or Barbie Dancing Princesses -- and a limited number of the winning products (generally 1,000 to 2,500) will go on sale at up to 75 per cent off at 2 p.m. every Thursday, including Thanksgiving, for the next four weeks.

There's Best Buy, trotting out the lawyers and issuing cease-and-desist letters. That's because several Web sites published the retailer's Black Friday circular, and the company wants to keep some suspense until next Friday, when a 4-gigabyte iPod Nano paired with a $25 gift card will cost $199, and the Sony PlayStation 2-and-game package will go for $129.99, down from $174.97. That information was taken down.

Wal-Mart is cutting prices on some of its high-end items, such as cashmere scarves. RedEnvelope.com is suggesting relatively new services including "shop now, ship later," to minimize the clutter of hiding presents before they're given.

With $32 billion in online spending expected to be at stake this holiday season, it's no wonder Amazon and other retailers are trying to get shoppers to turn to their computers instead of the malls, ahead of what retailers are calling Cyber Monday, when workers are supposed to hit their desks shopping after the Thanksgiving weekend.

Cyber Monday is the online equivalent of Black Friday, which retailers call the biggest shopping day of the year. More hype? Neither of those days turns out always to be when the most money is spent.

For brick-and-mortar retailers, that's typically the Saturday before Christmas. And Cyber Monday? Last year, it was only the ninth-busiest online shopping day. Buyers spent the most on Monday, Dec. 12 -- $556 million, according to ComScore Networks Inc.

So, if you weren't among the 35 percent of online shoppers who, according to the National Retail Federation, started shopping before Halloween this year -- breathe.

"We think Cyber Monday is an amusing myth," said Cliff Conneighton, senior vice president of marketing for software company Art Technology Group Inc., which powers the Web sites of retailers such as J.Crew, Neiman Marcus and Best Buy.

Amazon says its heaviest holiday shopping is in mid-December, near one of the last days to take advantage of free shipping. "We intentionally chose [Thanksgiving] so that customers could have their experience online before heading to the malls on Black Friday," said Craig Berman, a company spokesman.

Of course, it's to retailers' advantage to rack up sales early.

"If the heaviest shopping day is earlier in the year, [retailers] don't have to scramble as much" for the remainder of the season, said Patti Freeman Evans, senior retail analyst for Jupiter Research.

The most coveted buzz of all, of course, is word of mouth.

So this year retailers are busy monitoring chat sites and user reviews to see what kind of buzz people are generating over promotions or products, Evans said.

In the future, such buzz may come from independent sites creating communities of people sharing feedback on their purchases. ThisNext.com, Kaboodle.com and Wists.com all allow subscribers to search for products -- and comment on them.

ThisNext has more than 10,000 members who have signed up to volunteer reviews of everything from Seven for All Mankind skinny jeans to leather Rocket 7 cycling shoes.

One poster waxed ecstatic about biking gear: "They were a bit spendy, but man are they comfy."


© 2006 The Washington Post Company

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