Fewer than 10 days remain until Christmas, and retailers are trying to make the most of the holiday crunch time by luring online shoppers with free delivery offers.
Wednesday is Free Shipping Day, a last-minute consumption craze initiated in 2008 by entrepreneur Luke Knowles. Organizers say it's the last day for shoppers to order gifts online and have them sent — for free — by Christmas Eve.
This year, more than 750 retailers have signed up to participate. Major names — REI, Neiman Marcus, Bergdorf Goodman and J.C. Penney, among them — are included, as are a slew of small Main Street vendors.
In the next few days, brick-and-mortar retailers will be slammed with some of the heaviest crowds of the year. Local shopping centers such as the Grove and the Americana at Brand were swarming with shoppers this past weekend.
Ken Perkins, founder of Retail Metrics Inc., said many companies have spent the holidays offering steep discounts, boosting marketing spending, expanding price-matching offers and layaway programs and investing heavily in online infrastructure.
"There is no question that certain segments of retail are under severe stress as they fight tooth-and-nail for every dollar," he wrote in a note to clients over the weekend.
An increasing number of Americans are doing their presents-purchasing on the Internet.
Monday is expected to be the busiest day of the year for the U.S. Postal Service, which projects that it will process 607 million pieces of mail. On an average day, the USPS deals with 528 million pieces of mail; the number rises to 545 million a day during the holidays.
The agency said it expects that 420 million packages will be delivered during the season — a 12% boost from the same period last year.
Shoppers at certain retailers can continue buying gifts online into next week, with delivery ensured by Christmas.
Best Buy is offering express shipping through 10 a.m. PST on Sunday. Customers who order online by 4 p.m. local time on Christmas Eve can pick up items in stores.
Express shipping of in-stock merchandise from Macy's closes at 2 p.m. PST on Sunday; Nordstrom is offering free standard shipping on all merchandise and gift cards through 8 p.m. PST on Saturday.
A survey from Chase Blueprint found that 35% of Americans said they do most of their shopping at the last minute. The same holds true for 42% of younger shoppers ages 25 to 34.
Last-minute shoppers plan to spend $799 on average, compared with the $854 spent on average by shoppers who complete their gift-buying earlier.
But consulting firm Capgemini warns retailers to ensure that their shipping promises are kept. Data from the firm suggests that 89% of Americans are less likely to shop with a retailer down the line if an item is delivered late. And if shoppers looking for a specific holiday gift don't find it on a retailer's website, nearly three in 10 won't buy the item at all.