Retailers tie on ads, promotions to win Father's Day sales

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Online retailers have turned their attention from mom to dad with Father's Day promotions designed to simplify shopping for the man many say is the most difficult person to shower with gifts.

Whether it's a customized coupon book from a child, a caviar kit for the connoisseur dad or a gift certificate for just the carburetor he's been looking for, Web sites are tapping Father's Day -- the next big gift-giving holiday.

"All major holidays, especially for companies like ours that are in the gift-services area, are important sales opportunities," said Craig Olson, director of communications at WishClick, a gift idea and buying site. "When you look at what people are spending online for gifts -- an estimated $25 billion to $30 billion a year -- everyone is going to want to get a chunk of that."

WishClick recently conducted an online survey of 822 dads who were asked to name their fantasy Father's Day pastime, ideal standard gift and a romantic gift they would like to receive.

Last week the Foster City, Calif., company added several pages to its site (wishclick.com), including suggested gifts such as a home-brew beer kit, duffel bag or DVD player; a history of the 90-year-old holiday; card and recipe suggestions as well as ideas of how to spend the day with dad.

Michele Slack, senior analyst at Jupiter Communications, said "phenomenal" online Mother's Day sales likely will spur interest in Father's Day promotions and attract advertisers.

RedEnvelope Gifts Online, San Francisco, began early in April and May by inserting Father's Day catalogs into every Mother's Day gift it shipped. Last week, RedEnvelope mailed an additional 1.6 million catalogs to consumers.

Tom Bazzone, president-chief operating officer at RedEnvelope, said early orders from those catalogs identified the most popular products.

REPEAT BUYERS

Ms. Slack said it makes sense when two holidays are so close to each other for companies to promote themselves during both.

"If you've just bought, you have a high chance of purchasing from the same company assuming the service was good," she said.

Mr. Bazzone, who gained 40,000 to 50,000 new customers during the Mother's Day sales period, said he expects record-breaking Father's Day sales. Mother's Day sales were double the holiday season and 50% higher than Valentine's Day.

TARGETING VARIED INTERESTS

Like RedEnvelope, other online retailers also are promoting gifts catering to fathers' varied interests rather than pitching traditional gifts.

GiftCertificates.com has bundled merchants together to tailor gifts to different types of dads ranging from the "gadget guy" to the "GQ dad."

Garden.com's gift ideas appeal to dads' interest in the lawn and outdoor cooking; Father's Day gift shipping is free.

Bluemountain.com, the free electronic greeting-card site from Excite@Home, has free cards as well as gifts that can be purchased on the site. Fifty Father's Day electronic cards can be personalized with a voice greeting that plays when the card is opened.

Zing.com, an online photo service, encourages customers to send dad a ZingCard -- an e-mail card that contains a digital photo included by the sender -- to try to win a Hewlett-Packard photo scanner for their father that's given away daily.

This week, Gift Certificate Center's site (giftcert.

com) will award winners of its "Glad You're My Dad" essay contest. The Minneapolis company has promoted the contest, which has a grand prize of $2,500 in gift certificates from more than 300 partner merchants, using direct mail and e-mail marketing.

Frank Roffers, VP at Gift Certificate Center, said site traffic and sales have increased since the contest launched last month.

"Sometimes Father's Day gifts are a little less personal than Mother's Day," he said. "When you think about it, a gift certificate is perfect for fathers who don't want to get another tie."

FOR `MEAT AND POTATOES' GUY

Jason Wenig, director of traditional marketing at ExpressAutoParts.com, said his company's recent partnership with GiftCertificates.com is a chance to create a good foundation of customers who shop for so-called gear heads.

The company's average customer is a 35-to-49-year-old man with children, someone Mr. Wenig described as "a real meat and potatoes guy."

"Cars are one of those weird things that unless you're a car guy, you have no idea what to do," said Mr. Wenig, explaining that the opportunity to buy gift certificates solves the problem.

Companies that traditionally do brisk business around Father's Day are also taking advantage of e-commerce opportunities to boost sales.

High-end gift provider Brookstone timed last week's relaunch of its Web site (brookstone.com) to coincide with its second-busiest holiday. The Father's Day promotion is bolstered by an online ad campaign that increased spending significantly over Brookstone's campaign last year, said Gustavo Pena, director of marketing communications at Brookstone. Brookstone created the promotion and ad campaign in-house.

TV PROMOTING WEB SITE

As for companies wanting to feed dad, Omaha Steaks is using a multichannel marketing strategy to drive Father's Day shoppers online. An in-house created TV spot promoting the site (omahasteaks.com) broke last week on national cable and the company revamped its year-old direct-response Father's Day TV spot to highlight the Web site.

"I think the Net is becoming the convenience choice for time-pressed gift givers," said Todd Simon, senior VP at Omaha Steaks. "And to the extent that those people are giving Father's Day gifts, online shopping that provides ultraconvenient, ultrafast, high-quality gift solutions is going to become more popular."

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