There are 26 days between Thanksgiving and Christmas this year, compared to 32 last year. That presents risks and opportunities for online retailers and marketplaces.
Fewer days may mean less spending overall, crimping revenue and sparking more intense price wars that cut into profits. But the shorter season may also encourage more online shopping earlier as consumers try to be more efficient.
"It's going to be harder for people to get all their shopping done. This may translate into less spending overall but individual online shopping days like Cyber Monday may be a lot bigger," said Andrew Lipsman, vice president of marketing and insights at comScore, which tracks e-commerce activity. "At the end there may be a big bump in offline holiday shopping as people rush to finish what they have not done yet."
ComScore expects e-commerce holiday sales to grow 14% to 17%, compared to a year earlier. That forecast includes purchases on mobile devices.
Cyber Monday, the first work day after the Thanksgiving weekend, will be the busiest online shopping day in history when sales could top $2 billion. A quarter of all holiday shopping will happen late this season -- on Dec. 15 or after, comScore also forecast.
"We are hearing about new marketing tactics to extend the shopping period," Lipsman said.
Sucharita Mulpuru-Kodali, an e-commerce analyst at Forrester Research, said there are four main responses to the shorter holiday shopping season this year: Start promotions earlier, make discounts deeper, expose offers to more people and focus sales on Thanksgiving itself.
"Fewer days potentially means fewer sales. Everybody is! worried about this," she added. "These are highly seasonal businesses and they are making heroic efforts to try to grab as many holiday dollars as possible."
Amazon, the world's largest Internet retailer, said recently that its Black Friday deals will start a day earlier this year, beginning Nov. 24. New promotions will hit the company's website as often as every ten minutes from that date through the weekend following Black Friday.
Walmart.com kicks off a Cyber Week of online promotions two days early on Nov. 30 this year. The retailer will have 200 online specials every day through Dec. 6. The world's largest retailer said it will offer mobile app customers, Facebook fans and email subscribers early access to up to 20 of its best Cyber Monday deals.
Walmart also lowered its free shipping minimum this holiday season to $35 from $50. That matches Amazon's free shipping minimum, after the online retailer raised it to $35 from $25 earlier this year.
EBay is working with retailers, including Target, Best Buy, Macy's and Toys R Us, to help them handle the shorter holiday shopping period. One of eBay's main focuses this year is on shopping that gets done later in the season. This usually happens in physical stores, but eBay is trying to capture some of those sales through smartphones.
EBay runs a fast delivery service, called eBay Now, which lets mobile shoppers buy from major retailers through eBay's online marketplace and have the products delivered to them from physical stores in as little as an hour.
EBay Now usually wraps up at 8 p.m. local time. But hours will be extended from Dec. 16 to 23 to capture sales from consumers doing last minute shopping. Monday through Saturday, eBay Now couriers will deliver items until midnight local time and until 9 p.m. local time on Sunday, Dec. 22.
EBay Now usually charges $5 per order with a $25 minimum. But from Nov. 24 to Dec. 24, delivery will be free on all orders, the company said.