Consumers are shopping for the holidays earlier than ever, but the shopping season still extends well into December. Of consumers responding to our Google/OTX Consumer Intentions Survey from September, 46% plan to purchase the majority of their gifts in early and late December or wait until the last minute. As of last year, consumers have had a new incentive to finish their last minute shopping online: National Free Shipping Day.

Thursday, December 17, 2009 marks the second annual National Free Shipping Day, in which participating retailers ship products for free and guarantee arrival by Christmas Eve. Looking at 2008, we see that search traffic upticks at the start of December for "free shipping day," well before the actual day as users begin researching participating retailers.

If you are a participating retailer, ensure that you are advertising on these terms early. And remember, while Free Shipping Day is an important event for shoppers concerned with a holiday delivery date, free shipping is an enticing offer any time during the holiday season. As we discussed earlier in the week, search interest in "holiday free shipping" is up over last year and, as we see below, in the last thirty days, interest in free shipping is greater than interest in discounts or coupon codes:

Clearly, consumers are willing to do their homework to find free shipping offers. Since last minute shoppers will be looking for deals and deadlines, make sure any free shipping offers and date parameters are reflected in your ads. You'll also want to ensure that your budgets are set up for maximum traffic during the last shipping days in December.