The heat is on. With a compressed holiday season that includes six fewer days—and one less weekend—between Thanksgiving and Christmas than last year, retailers are starting earlier than ever with their marketing. And this year, that even precedes Halloween trick-or-treating.
In recent days, executives from Target, Walmart and Amazon have touted their fast- and free-shipping options and exclusive products. Walmart even began offering holiday deals on Oct. 25, advertising promotions like $100 off a $398 smart TV or $25 off a $99 trampoline, on its site.
“The trees are on their way to stores,” said Brian Cornell, CEO of Target, at a recent holiday press briefing, noting that Target will pivot to holiday mode shortly after Oct. 31 and that he expects to see a “consistent rhythm” of spending from shoppers. “Every day is going to count,” Cornell said.
Gap is of a similar mindset. The struggling apparel brand is dealing with increased pressure on its holiday performance this year as it prepares for the spin-off of sister brand Old Navy, a longtime booster of Gap sales, in 2020. Gap began its holiday campaign Oct. 23 with gift guides and will run a more emotionally driven anthem spot over the next two months. The commercial focuses on the relationship between a single mother and her son.
“Holiday is one of the most jam-packed, content-laden moments,” says Alegra O’Hare, CMO at Gap. “We had to really think thoroughly on ‘How do we cut through?’”
Speedy shipping is another way retailers are hoping to cut through, particularly the big all-category marketers. Target is promoting its free shipping, which rolls out Nov. 1, and its same-day holiday-delivery services. Cornell noted the chain will be selling 10,000 new or exclusive toys; he also mentioned that early results on the retailer’s new shop-in-shops with Disney have been “sensational.” He expects such momentum to continue to increase through January.
But fast shipping comes with a price. Amazon’s focus on single-day delivery has taken a toll on the ecommerce giant’s profit, according to its recent third-quarter earnings report. Profit fell 28 percent to $2.1 billion. On a call with analysts, Amazon Chief Financial Officer Brian Olsavsky said the one-day shipping could add around $1.5 billion in costs for the holiday season. But he noted that Amazon is not worried about the shorter period this year.
“The purchases tend to move around, some earlier in the quarter, some later in the quarter,” he said, noting that customers really “count on and receive quick shipments at the end and have higher faith in delivery just before the holiday.”
But Sucharita Kodali, a VP and principal analyst at Forrester, says the emphasis on fast shipping may be misplaced, particularly because many consumers who are shopping holiday deals are simply buying for themselves and deadlines don’t matter.
“The shipping piece is a nice-to-have but it’s not essential,” she says, noting that consumers shop online because it’s easy. “Amazon has driven a lot of companies out of business and it’s made life much harder for a lot of other companies because they feel they have to compete in this way.”