Nothing can ruin the sense of peace on earth and goodwill toward men brought on around this time of year than actually having to shop for the holidays. The frustration of finding parking, pushing through crowds at the mall and waiting in long lineups is enough to bring out anyone's inner Ebenezer. No wonder retailers are going all out to lure your gift-buying dollars online.
"Retailers are trying anything this year," says Alan Middleton, a professor of marketing at York University's Schulich School of Business.
Seizing on the convenience of online shopping, several companies have launched special promotions and sites to attract holiday shoppers who would rather buy gifts from the comfort of their own homes. Billed as a way to find that "perfect entertainment gift" for the holidays, for instance, Blockbuster announced this week that Canadians will now be able to shop at www.blockbuster.ca, while PayPal Canada, an e-commerce service that enables users to pay for items online, recently teamed with merchants such as Dell.ca, La Senza and LUSH Fresh Handmade Cosmetics to offer promotions on gifts available on a new microsite dedicated to holiday shopping.
Earlier this month, meanwhile, the Toronto Eaton Centre launched an iPhone application that allows users to access store promotions around the mall and post notes about deals and shopping updates to friends using Twitter and Facebook.
"You really need to look at what people are doing these days to get information," says Catherine Melchior, director of portfolio marketing at Cadillac Fairview, which owns the Eaton Centre. "You want to give them the information how they want it, when they want it."
There's no doubt that many Canadians will do their holiday shopping with a mouse rather than at a mall this year.
A recent Ipsos Reid poll of 1,025 Canadians conducted on behalf of PayPal Canada found that one-third of Canadians are planning on doing at least some of their holiday shopping online.
"This year more than any other, people are going to be deal-hunting more and more. And the Internet just makes that a lot easier to do," says Darrell MacMullin, general manager of PayPal Canada.
Any one who hopes to do his or her holiday shopping online should be warned, though: It's a much different beast than heading out to stores.
"You need to get going early," says Kristina Matisic, co-host of The Shopping Bags, a TV show about consumer products. "It's not the thing to do on Christmas Eve."
Indeed, it's best to purchase items at least two weeks early to allow for shipping, she says.
Also, using the Web to look for gifts can be a much-needed time saver over the holidays.
"Instead of going to the four electronic stores in your city to see where you can get the best deal on that iPod for your nephew, you can look online and save yourself that hassle," Matisic says.
Wehuns Tan, chief executive officer of Wishabi.ca, a site aimed at simplifying online shopping in Canada by ranking different deals, says using the Web to stuff your stocking can make sticking to a budget much easier.
"Coming out of the recession, people are still facing a bit of price pressures, so you're going to find people shop around more often to find offers," he says. With that in mind, many retailers will now offer free shipping for purchases over a certain price.
Of course, it's hardly in the spirit of the season to ship off a gift that isn't wrapped. But that, too, is an increasingly common option for gifts bought online.
"A lot of stores will prewrap the presents and deliver," Matisic says. "Usually that's included in the price."
On the downside, however, doing your holiday shopping from a computer can make the experience seem less real than going from store to store on foot. Mouse clicks aren't all that sentimental.
But it's a small price to pay to enjoy what is arguably the greatest luxury of online shopping: getting to do it on your couch in sweatpants while the hordes trudge through the snow, jostling one another to get to a cash register.
"A big positive is that you don't have to leave your house to do it," Matisic says.
Digital strategies (or non-strategies) of top Canadian retailers
One friend could be programming a new iPhone app, while another is still trying to understand his VCR instructions.
Some people just don't get technology. Retailers are no different.
As some seize the chance to spread their message using as many social-media outlets as possible during the post-recession holiday season, others equate updating their websites as being social-media-savvy. Here's how three major Canadian brands stack up:
Facebook The company launched a dedicated Facebook fan page in April that now boasts more than 11,000 fans. The page is updated at least once a week with news of in-store events, promotions, offers, sales and new trends or products, including the launch of its online gift guide.
Blogging Holts held a contest (through its Facebook fan page) to pick three "contemporary correspondents" in Vancouver, Toronto and Montreal who could write about store events and promotions as they happen. The contest generated some buzz earlier in the year, but judging by the lack of comments posted to blog entries, it's difficult to say whether many people are reading.
YouTube Inspired by shoppers who were uploading their own videos online, Holts created its own YouTube channel featuring videos of events and fashion updates. As of Thursday, the channel had 64 subscribers, although a few of the videos have been viewed more than 25,000 times.
Miscellaneous Shoppers can purchase gift cards directly from the Holt Renfrew website and have them sent with personalized messages.
Facebook The company's official Facebook fan page has about 6,500 fans. The page, usually updated a few times daily, features new products, contests, videos and sales or offers. But it also offers online-only bonuses, such as previews of customer events and coupons or discounts to fans. The company encourages customer feedback right on the site and tries to quickly respond to people who have questions or comments about products, said James Connell, senior director of e-commerce, digital marketing and new media.
Twitter Like Facebookers, those who follow the retailer (@RootsCanada) get the 411 first about new promotions, products and deals. As of Thursday, Roots had more than 1,800 followers.
Blogging The Buzz at Roots can be accessed from the retailer's main website and the content is promotion-heavy without a real sense of personality.
Miscellaneous Customers can write their own reviews (which can include uploaded photos or video) that will be posted directly on the site. Reviews can also be shared by customers on Facebook, Twitter and other networking sites.
Despite recent efforts to revamp its image and boost sales, the iconic company hasn't yet ventured into the world of Facebook, Twitter or other social-media ventures. Digital and social media are "a growing area of focus/interest," a spokeswoman said.
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