The Hottest Section of the Department Store May Be Online

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First and foremost, big brick-and-mortar retailers want to drive foot traffic into stores during the holiday period. But even when it comes to the old-fashioned department store model, retailers understand that boosting online sales is essential.

The vast majority of retail sales still take place in physical stores. E-retail, however, is where the biggest potential for growth exists.

While most anticipate that the increase in physical store sales will be modest for Black Friday and the rest of the holiday period, e-retail sales are expected to grow by an impressive 17%.

Brick-and-mortar stores are utilizing a range of strategies to compete better with Amazon and other online sellers—including special toy reservation programs, fee-free layaway, and even unprecedented price-matching guarantees.

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They’re also taking obvious steps to attract shoppers to their own websites, with the hope that customers will close the deal there rather than at Amazon or any other site. Some examples:

Starting on Black Friday—or “Gray Friday,” since JCPenney is doing things differently compared to most retailers—and continuing on through the holiday season, customers will receive an assortment of holiday buttons. Millions of buttons featuring Santa, reindeer, and seasonal messages will be handed out, and each of the buttons will contain a unique code on the back. Enter this code at and you’ll have a chance to win JCPenney merchandise, gift cards worth $5 to $500, package vacations all over the U.S., and other prizes. To play along, of course, you must visit the JCPenney website.

Many big retailers are opening their doors on Thanksgiving night. To get a jump on Black Friday week shoppers, Kohl’s has announced it is making more than 500 Early Bird specials available for purchase on its website starting on Wednesday, November 21. Like many retailers Kohl’s is also trying to draw traffic to its Facebook page. The company is promising to donate $1 to Toys for Tots for every new person who “likes” the Kohl’s Facebook page between November 23 and December 24.

(MORE: JCPenney’s Not-So-Black Friday)

A Black Friday week promotion from Sears aims to not only drive traffic to its website, but to increase membership in its loyalty program and attract shoppers into physical stores all in the same breath. Anyone who is a member of the Sears Shop Your Way rewards program is allowed to make online purchases of doorbuster-type Black Friday deals starting on Sunday, November 18. The offer stipulates that all purchases must be picked up in a brick-and-mortar location; shipping isn’t an option.

For a selection of top toy gift items, Target is offering free shipping for all, anywhere in the U.S., with no minimum purchase requirement, for purchases made on its website by December 29. Also, shoppers can make instant purchases in Target stores by scanning the QR codes of certain toys with a smartphone; the item can be shipped anywhere in the U.S. for free.

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OK, so Staples isn’t really a department store. But a deal’s a deal. And, like its department store counterparts, Staples is making a strong effort to boost online sales before, during, and after Black Friday. Starting on November 18 at, online shoppers get access to special extra-early Black Friday sales.