Beyond competitive prices, free shipping and good customer service, other factors play more niche roles in early bird shopping.

Retailers are always pushing shoppers to buy early, and there may be no bigger opportunity than in advance of Thanksgiving Week. With that in mind, Digital Commerce 360 and Bizrate Insights asked 1,055 shoppers to weigh in during our November 2019 survey on what pushes them to shop early. Additionally, a discussion of how they select retailers also shed light into how they may react to retailer offers in the weeks to come.

My goal was to explore how retailers were messaging to shoppers as emails were flooding in and sites were putting on the final touches for Black Friday. I took a look at 18 retailers from marketplaces like Amazon, Etsy and eBay to mass merchants like Target, Walmart and Costco. Additionally specialty retailers like Best Buy, Sephora, American Eagle, Ulta and Williams-Sonoma were visited. Some I shop regularly, while others I haven’t visited in the past year or even longer. Throughout the next month, I will highlight some of the most interesting retailer examples and share how they relate to our research findings.

As of Nov. 21, Ulta’s Friendsgiving Sale was on. Gift with purchase items were plentiful including a free 23-piece beauty bag with any $65 purchase. What I found most appealing was their positioning of the free $20 eReward card when you buy $100 worth of Ulta Beauty cards. They were clearly listening to holiday shoppers as 27% expressed appeal in receiving gift cards for making an early purchase. It wouldn’t last long as it ended just before midnight on Nov. 23. On a positive note, they have a longer window to redeem these cards, giving shoppers until Feb. 20, 2020 to take advantage of the promotion. Additionally, as a member, I have a few days to earn double points, though this is something I come across on their site and others throughout the year.

Early bird sales saw appeal among 37% of the shoppers surveyed and Best Buy has product previews nailed. On Nov. 21, a week before Thanksgiving, I can beat the rush for all my electronics needs. I like the option to peruse their Black Friday ad to ensure I’m in the know on hot products for my teenage daughter. Additionally, they’ve factored in my desire for free next-day delivery on thousands of items. Lastly, they can have it ready for me at one of the stores in my neighborhood within an hour. If past experience serves me well, it usually is available within minutes.

At Victoria’s Secret, it seems like everything is always on sale. 64% of our surveyed shoppers revealed that a big discount on a product they couldn’t resist would cause them to shop early, and that might just be the case here. From 40% off on pajama  sets, to a myriad of Buy One, Get One Free and Gift with Purchase touts, there were many deals to be had. In the hunt for more unusual promotions, I came across a limited time offer of a Free $20 Gift Card with any $20 purchase. If I placed a $20 order, I would receive $20 off a future purchase. This initiative was all about getting a timely second sale as it that had to be completed in December. Perhaps this approach can serve both my early shopping lists and last-minute needs.


The factors that are most important when choosing a retailer when shopping for the holidays provided some important insights. Beyond competitive prices, free shipping and good customer service, there were others that played more niche roles.

When I arrived at Apple’s website—always a favorite in our household—they encouraged me to “Make someone’s holiday.” Upon scrolling through the homepage, I came across their Apple Watch Studio and the copy reinforced that it was only at Apple. 25% of shoppers indicated that they choose a retailer for their product selection, including exclusive items. Often times, shoppers like me want to have a unique gift for their kids and this could certainly fit the bill. With brands being sold at traditional retailers as well, this sticky features keep customers coming back.

With 58% of shoppers indicating that speed of delivery was one of the most important logistical factors influencing where they shop, several retailers seized the moment to reinforce their delivery prowess. As part of their At Your Service messaging, Neiman Marcus showcases beautiful products and brands both for their elegant gift packaging and their same-day delivery.

From sales to services, shoppers are on the lookout for gifts that will thrill recipients. They must be inspired by products, enticed by deals and wowed by service. Retailers will have their hands full to achieve all three objectives this holiday season.