Retailers at the mall may be bracing for a tough holiday season, but their online counterparts are feeling more optimistic.
Nearly two-thirds of retailers, or 64 percent, expect their companies' online revenue to increase by at least 15 percent compared with last year, according to a survey by the National Retail Federation's Shop.org online arm. That's up from 45.8 percent that expected an increase that size last year.
The survey, based on interviews with 51 top online retailers Sept. 1-Sept. 27, also found that e-commerce companies are thinking early when it comes to Christmas marketing. Forty percent of online retailers will begin holiday marketing by Halloween, with another 40 percent planning to begin the week of Nov. 1.
Still, despite solid sales prospects, merchants are not going to dump some of the Web's most alluring incentives, particularly free shipping.
Four out of the five online retailers said they'll offer free shipping at some point during the season, and nearly one-third said these offers will begin earlier this year than a year ago. Shoppers might even see more free shipping deals this year as almost 37 percent said their budget for free shipping is higher than last year; 57 percent said it would be about the same while 6 percent said it would be somewhat lower.
Forecasts for online holiday sales are just trickling in. But online research firm comScore Inc. expects anywhere from 7 to 9 percent growth this holiday season compared with a year ago, when business was up 4 percent over the previous year, according to its calculations.
Forrester Research is slated to come out with its forecast in the next week or two.
In comparison, many economists and other groups expect holiday sales for physical stores to be up no more than 3 percent.
Sucharita Mulpuru, an analyst at Forrester, estimates that 10 percent of all holiday sales are done online.
_ AP Retail Writer Anne D'Innocenzio
It's Halloween _ must be the start of Black Friday sales!
NEW YORK (AP) _ Halloween hasn't even passed, but stores already are hoping the words "Black Friday" can work their sales magic.
Retailers are offering an array of discounts, often touted as deals for an early Black Friday, the day after Thanksgiving that's one of the biggest shopping days of the year. They're designed to get people spending early in hopes of a selling season that's better than last year's, when consumers were still spending sparsely on non-necessities during the recession.
Toys R Us' annual 80-page holiday toy catalog is set to arrive at customers' homes on Sunday, and many items will be on sale through Nov. 24, the company said. The toy seller is offering a $10 gift card for spending $75 or more and other incentives.
Kohl's Corp. is unveiling a holiday campaign touting its savings programs. "Give, save and save again with the Kohl's charge," one ad reads. The department store operator will offer extended hours during the holiday season and offer shoppers $10 in store credit for purchases of $50 or more.
Sears plans to offer weekly early morning sales, offered on Black Friday, beginning Friday and continuing every Friday and Saturday through Nov. 20. The department store operator is also planning two-day sales during the season. Deals for this Friday include $70 off a RCA 40-inch LCD TV that retails for $569.99 and $39.99 Covington women's boots for $19.99. Sears offered similarly pitched discounts on holiday items early last year; this year it expanded the sale to two days per week.
And online merchant Amazon.com is also offering what it is calling "Black Friday" deals beginning on Friday, on electronics such as Blu-ray players, HDTVs, video games and other products. Last year, the online retailer kicked off Black Friday sales Nov. 23.
Black Friday is considered the official kickoff to the holiday shopping season. It got its name because it was historically the day that merchants sold enough merchandise to push them into profitability or "the black" for the year.
_ AP Retail Writer Mae Anderson
Macy's gifts to go
Macy's Inc. is upping the ante when it comes to holiday gifts, offering special areas in its stores where shoppers can easily grab gifts and shop for items by designers and other celebrities.
Macy's launched this week gift shops in 400 of its stores nationwide, including its flagship store in Manhattan's Herald Square. Gifts range from the practical to the whimsical. They include $24 classic games by Ridley's, dessert plates by Rebecca Moses (four for $25), a set of colorful bangles for $24 and a $20 cover for a BlackBerry.
The shops, which are located on the main floor of the store, feature about 400 different items, most of them exclusive to Macy's.
As for its exclusive celebrity gifts, Macy's has set up nooks throughout the stores featuring items created by Macy's celebrity names like Betsy Johnson and Donald Trump. These gifts include a four-piece Martha Stewart glassware set for $16.99, $49.50 ties under the Donald Trump brand and Tommy Hilfiger glass ornaments, $29.50 for four.
In the past, Macy's had focused on traditional gift items such as jewelry, cosmetics and cold-weather items such as gloves and scarves.
_ AP Retail Writer Anne D'Innocenzio