Labor Day Sales Mostly a Blown Opportunity, Rather Than a Blowout

While Labor Day can mean last-minute deals for parents who are looking for deals on back-to-school stuff, online retailers — especially those normally focused on offering heavy discounts — appeared to sit this marketing bonanza out.

The major e-commerce spending days typically fall around the holidays at the end of the year, with the day after Thanksgiving or the first day back to work after Thanksgiving typically being some of the biggest retail highlights of the year. But traditionally, retailers have also marked down items heavily on Labor Day to draw in crowds over the three-day weekend before school starts.

However, in an unofficial survey of how online retailers handled the holiday yesterday, it seems traditional retailers such as Best Buy, Toys R Us, Fry’s Electronics and Old Navy offered the most specials, while many of the new e-commerce companies — like daily deal or flash sales sites — failed to mention the holiday at all.

There were two major exceptions: One Kings Lane, which sells home decor, offered a Labor Day Blowout Sale, discounting pillows and bedding, lanterns and polka-dotted tea sets. But oddly, there was no direct tie to the holiday since the sale ends Thursday. Zulily, a flash sales site focused on children’s apparel, also offered a specific Labor Day sale, which in addition to having hundreds of items for sale for kids and moms also was promoting a Labor Day shipping special, offering free shipping on all additional orders placed between Friday and Monday at midnight.

But after those two examples, mentions of Labor Day were fairly weak, and many missed the opportunity to call out the holiday in the subject line of the emails they normally send every day. It appears that sites that normally offer discounts have a hard time knowing how a sale tied to a marketing opportunity, like a holiday, can stand out on its own.

For instance, HauteLook, which is a flash-sales site owned by Nordstrom, offered a sale on some jewelry, including necklaces, rings and earrings. (Ironically, from what I could see, Nordstrom made no mention of Labor Day at all on its site.) The Clymb, which is a flash sales site focused on outdoor apparel, offered special Labor Day discounts on an assortment of hoodies, dog jackets and portable picnic tables. But in either case, nothing made the items particularly appropriate or timely — and the discounts seemed regular.

The Gilt Groupe perhaps tried a little harder by creating a section called Labor Day gifts, which discounted a handful of random items, such as wine glasses, picture frames, vases and photo albums.

Meanwhile, Groupon and LivingSocial, two of the biggest mass emailers, let the day pass without calling attention to it.

Regardless of how relevant the offer is, the biggest mistake of all may be not mentioning the holiday. After all, it is something that consumers were searching for.

Yahoo said that searches for “Labor Day weekend 2011” were up 1,889 percent his month, and that “Labor Day sales” was one of the major search terms, along with “Does FedEx deliver on Labor Day?”

(Answer: No, it does not.)

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Another gadget you don’t really need. Will not work once you get it home. New model out in 4 weeks. Battery life is too short to be of any use.

— From the fact sheet for a fake product entitled Useless Plasticbox 1.2 (an actual empty plastic box) placed in L.A.-area Best Buy stores by an artist called Plastic Jesus