Last week Sears and Kmart became the latest retailers to sell Christmas trees online and deliver them to your doorstep, at least if you live in the lower 48 states of the USA. And while it is great that a company that formerly sold houses via mail order has entered this market, you might get a better deal if you shop elsewhere, both for live and fake trees. Of course, you might be somewhat nostalgic that yet another holiday ritual has been relegated to the digital universe. But while you do your shopping you can see some important user experience lessons to be learned for your own ecommerce site here.
As you can imagine, the market for tree sales is huge: the National Christmas Tree Association predicts that online sales of cut trees are still a fraction of the 27 million-plus trees expected to be purchased this year. Some 33% of folks still trek to the nearest tree farm to cut their own, the group says. But you have lots of choices, and it pays to shop around, just like anything else you purchase online.
The trees are packaged compressed in a sturdy cardboard box and can either be picked up at your local store or delivered to your home. The prices are all over the map, but generally for less than $200 you can get a pretty nice live tree, and less for a fake one in various colors.
The Kmart and Sears websites differ in the ordering process, which is odd because they are owned by the same parent company. Kmart is actually the better user experience. Kmart sells both live and artificial trees, has a handy indicator of when the tree will be delivered right on the ordering page.
Sears doesn't indicate the delivery date, and charges a hefty extra fee for shipping. They sell trees from the Christmas Tree Company. As you can see from the screen shot below, it warns you that the delivery will take time, but doesn't specify the actual delivery date.
Many of the other merchants offer shipping for less, or even for free, such as JC Penney, which has free shipping on artificial trees, and Target, which offers free shipping on most items over $50, including live trees. (You can read more about their online efforts here.)
If you are in a hurry, Target shows you the range of delivery dates on its various shipping methods at the checkout page. See the screen capture below.
Some stores offer the ability to order trees online and pickup in the nearest retail location, something that many of them have offered for years. You just enter your zipcode for availability.
Membership-only Costco allows you to select an arrival date, which they will try to hit within one or two business days, by using a pop-up calendar window. All of their prices include shipping, a nice touch.
There are plenty of other merchants that offer live trees include Wayfair.com, which autodetects your location and estimates delivery dates. Amazon.com doesn't sell live trees of any substantial size, but does offer fake ones. And like Sears, Home Depot sells live trees from the Christmas Tree Company with free shipping, or pickup in one of their stores.
Some may feel that this holiday tradition is being subverted, such as this one naysayer who was quoted in the USA Today article that announced Sears and Kmart's offering: "It's a sad reflection of where American society is going," says Lisa Mastny, a spokeswoman for the Center for a New American Dream. But it is nice to have choices when shopping online, and perhaps the Sears/Kmart entry will raise the bar on its competitors' tree offerings. In the meantime, I recommend Home Depot as a starting point for your online tree shopping, or Costco if you are a member.