Retailers are likely to start their free-shipping and discount offers early this holiday season.  According to a new survey, 16.3% of retailers will offer their first holiday free shipping offer by the week of October 28; more than one-third (34.9%) say they already offer year-round free shipping, compared to 23.1% in 2012. Additionally, more than half (51.2%) of online retailers surveyed plan to start their online holiday marketing promotions by Halloween. Holiday Shopping

For the first time, Shop.org asked online retailers when they have or will start planning for the 2013 holiday season, revealing that more than three-quarters (74.4%) had begun planning by July.

“Retailers have been preparing for holiday for months, smartly investing in what’s important to online shoppers: value, free shipping, a user-friendly site, and flexible returns, among other features,” said Shop.org Executive Director Vicki Cantrell. “Retailers understand that holiday shoppers also look for merchandise selection and quality, and have boosted inventory to offer ample selection and exclusive products to help customers find just the right gift for everyone on their list.”

RETAILERS PREP DIGITAL INVESTMENTS FOR HOLIDAY SEASON

Knowing that consumers increasingly use their smartphones and tablets to research and purchase products, retailers have prepared accordingly.  More than half (57.4%) have invested in optimizing their mobile websites, nearly four in 10 (38.3%) have invested heavily in the smartphone user experience, and one-quarter (25.5%) say they invested in mobile commerce apps for smartphones.

Retailers will also tap specific mobile marketing tools to attract holiday shoppers this year. At the top of the list of mobile tactics for over half (55.3%) of retailers: mobile email optimization.  Additionally, 44.7% will use smartphone paid search campaigns, two in five (21.3%) will use SMS campaigns, and 17.0% will use QR codes or other barcode scanning promotions.

Shop.org also asked online retailers about their budgets for online holiday marketing and promotions. According to the survey, 68.8% of online retailers say that at least 20% of their total 2013 online marketing budget goes towards holiday marketing, and two-thirds (66.6%) say that at least 20% of their total online promotions budget goes towards holiday promotions.

IMPACT OF ECONOMY ON MARKETING, SOCIAL MEDIA PLANS FOR HOLIDAY SEASON

The economy has also had an impact on how retailers have changed their company’s plans for the 2013 holiday season. Specifically, more than one-quarter (27.3%) say they will offer free shipping earlier because of the economy. Discounts will also come earlier as a result of the economy: according to the survey, 31.8% plan to offer discounts earlier than they did last year, and another 31.8% will increase their use of daily deals for their customers.

Looking for heightened return on their investment, many companies will focus more on social media this year. More than half (54.8%) will increase their use of Facebook in November and December, and 59.5% will increase their use of Pinterest. Additionally, 55.0% of companies surveyed will increase their use of Instagram.

[Source:  “eHoliday Survey.”  Prosper Insights & Analytics/Shop.org.  17 Oct. 2013.  Web.  24 Oct. 2013.]