As the calendar turned to November, many major online retailers began decking their e-commerce sites with holiday offers, an Internet Retailer survey shows. This holiday shopping season is another short one—just 27 days between Thanksgiving and Christmas—so retailers are trying to capture purchases early.

When the weather outside is frightful and consumers’ holiday shopping lists are long, web and television retailer QVC wants to be where shoppers take comfort. “There’s a real appetite in the marketplace for an oasis from all the hype and all the noise, the frenetic tone of holiday shopping,” says Doug Rose, senior vice president of multichannel programming and marketing. “Consumers are gravitating to QVC as a place to come and put your feet up and feel comfortable in the act of shopping for gifts.”

One of the ways QVC is trying to become that destination is by offering a “Better than Black Friday” promotion, which offers consumers limited-time deals without the waiting in line, Rose says. Liberty Interactive Corp., No. 6 in the 2014 Internet Retailer Top 500 Guide, last month spun off QVC and related assets into a separate company called QVC Group.

QVC is also leveraging its social media platforms to aggregate its holiday content, which includes recipes, do-it-yourself projects and trending gift ideas. On Twitter, the content will be tagged with the hashtag #allthejoy.

With the calendar turning to November, QVC is one of many major online retailers whose  holiday marketing program are in high gear. The holidays started in full force at many retailers on Nov. 1, as Halloween promotion gave way to Christmas offers. Inc., for example, started unveiling limited-time deals in its Countdown to Black Friday event that will feature some 15,000 deals through Dec. 22. And with the holiday shopping season numbering only 27 days from Black Friday (the day after Thanksgiving) to Christmas eve, retailers aren’t wasting any time in marketing holiday promotions. That showed up in an Internet Retailer survey this week of the e-commerce sites of dozens of retailers in the Internet Retailer Top 500 and Second 500 guides, which collectively represent the 1,000 leading merchants in North America by online sales.

At sporting goods retailer Dick’s Sporting Goods, No. 72 on the Top 500 Guide, the home page declares: “The holidays have arrived. Unwrap the savings.” When consumers click on that image they’re taken to a page where Dick’s outlines its schedule for two-day sales throughout the holiday season. The first sale began on Nov. 2, the next will begin Nov. 9, then Nov. 16 and Nov. 21. At the top of that page, a note says Black Friday deals will begin online at midnight Eastern Time on Thanksgiving. It also notes Cyber Week sales start the Sunday after Thanksgiving at 6 a.m. Eastern Time.


Target Corp., No. 18 on the Top 500 Guide, takes a different approach. The mass merchant is already promoting free shipping in time for the holidays. One promotion features the tag line “i can’t wait i can’t wait I can’t wait” (in all lowercase), hinting to consumers that now (several weeks before Thanksgiving) is a great time to buy holiday gifts. The holidays have also hit the retailer’s social media accounts: its Facebook page’s cover image is holiday-inspired, and a holiday commercial appears on its YouTube channel.

With its prominent promotion of free shipping, Target is responding to a clear preference among online shoppers not to pay to have orders delivered. Free shipping has consistently been cited by consumers as one of the most important considerations for online shopping. 58% of consumers have added items to their shopping carts to qualify for free shipping and 83% are willing to wait for delivery if shipping is free, according to a July 2014 survey of 5,800 consumers by comScore.

Retailers are responding to that demand. 41% of retailers plan to offer free shipping this holiday shopping season, according to a survey of retailers by ChannelAdvisor Corp., which helps retailers sell on some 20 online marketplaces. Among the 1,000 e-retailers listed in Internet Retailer’s Top 500 and Second 500 guides, 623 advertised free shipping in November 2013 on at least some products on their home pages. Of those retailers, 255 offered free shipping regardless of order value.

Although not as focused as some retailers on holiday gifts, The Home Depot Inc. is getting into the spirit of the season. The home improvement retail chain is featuring holiday decorations—Christmas trees, holiday lights, wreaths—on its home page. The retailer is also channeling its customers’ do-it-yourself instinct with Pinterest boards titled “Holiday Style Challenge” and “Holiday Crafts and Ideas.” Those boards have 64,000 and 81,000 followers, respectively. The pins on those boards link back to tutorials and articles on Home Depot’s “The Apron Blog.”


Another retailer harnessing the power of contests to drum up interest in untraditional holiday products is Office Depot Inc., No. 9 in the Top 500. The retailer will soon launch a marketing campaign called “Meet the Holiday Elves,” for consumers. The page right now features links to the retailer’s social media accounts. Office Depot is also running a contest for B2B customers: the “Elf Who Helps Small Business,” the competition calls for business owners and employees to explain in up to 150 words “what task they need assistance with and how it will help them.” Office Depot will select 14 entries as winner and award them “a variety of products and a $1,000 gift card” to help with those tasks.

E-mail marketing is center stage at Best Buy Co. Inc., No. 15 in the Top 500. The retailer as of Nov. 5 was offering a pop-up to web site visitors promoting its Black Friday “Ad Leak,” and encouraging them to sign up for e-mails so that they get the retailer’s holiday offers. The consumer electronics retailer is also promoting its gift guide, price-match policy, free shipping on orders over $35 and store pick-up service for online orders.

Newegg Inc., No. 17 in the Top 500 Guide, is promoting its annual “Black November” promotion on its Facebook page and on its home page, though the promotion falls below the fold of the home page. For the past five year, the retailer has offered Black Friday deals on every Friday in November. Deals unveiled today run through Nov. 10 and feature discounted prices on such items as headphones, computer processors and keyboards.

The early-November promotions continue a trend in recent years of online retailers trying to capture holiday purchases early, and not waiting for the big shopping days Black Friday and Cyber Monday that follow Thanksgiving. Despite that, with the Thanksgiving holiday period is likely to be crucial: IBM predicting consumers will spend 15% more on the web during the five-day period between Thanksgiving and Cyber Monday, the Monday after Thanksgiving.