Best Buy free shipping: How can brick-and-mortar retailers compete this Christmas?

Best Buy is the first major retailer to announce its holiday selling strategy, and, in what may represent a grab at rising trend for online sales, will waive shipping on all online purchases during the holidays. 

Gabe Hernandez/The Monitor/AP
Customers stand in line as they wait for the doors to open at Best Buy in McAllen, Texas Nov. 27, 2014. Best Buy is offering early online deals for holiday shopping.

Kyley Ball is a mother of seven from Arizona, and fully intends to go shopping on Black Friday. She just may not buy anything.

"We usually go out on a date that morning for fun," Ms. Ball tells The Christian Science Monitor. "I love seeing people scramble for things I got days earlier in my pjs."

Ball uses the pre-Thanksgiving "leak ads" to do her shopping at Best Buy, Kohl's, Walmart, and Target online. She says the deals are all online days before Black Friday, and she can usually get free shipping. 

More holiday shopping occurs online every year, meaning traditional retailers may go digital to meet their consumers, rather than simply give up the sales they are losing in brick-and-mortar stores to online retail giant Amazon. 

"If I were an executive of any business stuck in the brick-and-mortar world, I’d be really worried ... I’d be trying to create an exciting online business that would meet my customers’ needs and capture their imagination," wrote Steve Conine, cofounder and chief technology officer of Wayfair, an online retailer of home furnishings and housewares, for the Harvard Business Review. 

Retailers can compete online by offering a better interface, which makes shopping at the online version of a store easier even if they can't fight prices on an item-by-item level, Mr. Conine wrote. 

The earliest examples of this for the 2015 holiday season have already emerged. Best Buy will encourage shoppers to buy from them online by cutting all shipping fees for the holiday season, the electronics chain announced Friday. From Sunday until Jan. 2, the online store – which accounted for 15 percent of Best Buy's holiday sales last year – will waive the usual $35 minimum for free shipping, the Minneapolis Star-Tribune reported. 

Best Buy's physical stores have stepped away from the fraying contest of Black Friday as well. On the early date of Nov. 7, Best Buy stores will offer "Black Friday-like deals on this year's hottest gifts," plus door prizes and set-up demonstrations by tech support. 

Americans plan to do 46 percent of their holiday shopping online this year, according to the National Retail Federation, which provides advocacy and research for American retail companies. This is up from 44 percent last year and is the highest percentage since 2006. 

Nearly half of shoppers say that shipping costs will influence their choice of online retailer, so perhaps other stores will make announcements like Best Buy's soon. Target tried a free-shipping deal last year and found success, and although Best Buy is the first major retailer to announce anything this year, other major companies could follow suit, the Minneapolis Star-Tribune reported. 

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