Convenience Draws Online Shoppers

The data available so far for online gift shopping this holiday season shows shoppers seem to be turning to the Internet to buy gifts simply because it isn’t the traditional shopping mall.

America Online reported on Dec. 16 that 750,000 of its members became first-time buyers in the first two weeks of December. AOL’s online shopping channel is reporting traffic is up 350 percent over last year. The most popular items purchased by the America Onliners include toys, apparel, books, and music, according to the Dulles, VA-based company.

Ninety-five percent of the AOL shoppers asked by The Internet Research Group cited the convenience of having a store that is always open as a reason to shop online.

Traffic, crowds, and a lack of parking spaces were cited by 70 percent of those surveyed by Roper Starch as reasons for putting off holiday shopping. The poll was sponsored by online bookselling giant Amazon.com. Sixty-three percent of the last-minute shoppers said they will wait anyway to shop this year. Unlimited hours, the lack of crowds, and the absence of traffic (of the automobile variety) are the major selling points for e-commerce this holiday season.

Over 80 percent of those responding to an on-going survey sponsored by World Research and www.earthlink.net said the lack of crowds was the reason they preferred online holiday shopping; 75 percent said they like to be able to shop day or night; and over 70 percent said they don’t have to wait in lines or deal with traffic and parking problems.

At the other end of the list were product availability and selection, showing that the convenience of Internet shopping has been important to this year’s consumers.

“These preliminary results show that e-commerce is coming of age and Internet users are embracing online shopping,” said Gregory Harmon, Director of Research at World Research, Inc.

Data released by Media Metrix showed that visits to online shopping sites leveled out during the last full week of shopping before Christmas. The week of December 11-17 featured a four percent increase in the amount of unique visitors to shopping sites compared with the previous week. Traffic had been up 80 percent for the first week of December compared to the last week of November Media Metrix announced earlier. The company also found that the audience composition at all shopping sites is now approximately equal between males and females. In the previous week, females made up 55 percent of the shopping audience.

“These data tell us that shopping sites maintained last week’s large crowds, but did not experience a major influx of additional users,” said Media Metrix Senior VP Bob Ivins.

One e-tailer reporting a successful CyberChristmas is Sharper Image Corp., which as reported a 492 percent increase in sales from its site, from December 1 to December 21. The 492 percent increase topped the 436 percent increase in November.

According to data compiled by Net Ratings, during the first official week of holiday shopping, books, CDs, auctions, and computer products were the most popular e-commerce sites (see Table).

Amazon.com led the Book/CD category pack with nearly an 8 percent reach, followed by CDNow with a 3.4 percent reach. In the Auction category, eBay had the lion’s share with a 7.8 percent reach and the highest index average of 81 minutes per person and 113 pages per person for the week.Beyond.com with a 2.3 percent reach and IBM at 2 percent led the computer products category. BlueMountain was the leader in the Specialty category with a 6.2 percent reach; specialty products include flowers, perfume, wine and chocolates. Disney led the Entertainment category with a 4.7 percent reach.

No single shopping site dominated the Shopping Network category, according to Net Ratings. Spree.com, NetMarket, and Egghead held the top positions with a reach ranging from 2.5 percent to approximately 3 percent.

E-toys has a significant lead in the Toys category with 4.9 percent reach over competitor Toys R Us (and others) who individually have less than a 2 percent reach. Speaking of toys, Media Metrix released its first cross-visitation data recently. Among its findings: 19 percent of all visitors to toy sites also visited department store sites; thirty-five percent of all visitors to toy sites also visited book/movie/music sites; and eight percent of all toy shoppers visited apparel sites. Book/movie/music sites experienced the highest cross-visitation than any other category, over 30 percent in most cases.

Net Ratings said Wal-mart led the Department Store category with a 2 percent reach and the electronics leader was Sony with a 3.4 percent reach.

Apparel, the smallest category represented, had no single e-tailer with a significant reportable reach, each site was under 1 percent, according to Net Ratings.

Individual apparel sites are reporting good numbers thus far in the holiday season. Outletmall.com, the off-price apparel site spun off from fashionmall.com, has reported that sales this week are up 400 percent. The site has already tripled its capacity to handle the holiday crunch.

Media Metrix data revealed that visitors to apparel (+11 percent) and books/music/movie sites (+6 percent) increased during the final full shopping week before Christmas. The number of unique visitors to toy sites declined by 15 percent during the last full week, while department store sites showed no change, Media Metrix said.

The World Research/Earthlink survey results reflect that 69.3 percent of Internet users have already used or plan to use the Internet to shop for the holidays this year, compared to only 21.1 percent last year. On average, these respondents expect to spend $316.00 online this year versus an average of $157.00 last year. As of December 8, only 4.7 percent of the respondents reported that they had finished their holiday shopping and 45 percent had not yet started.

The survey will be maintained through the end of the holiday season, and can be found at www.survey.com/holshopsur.html or at http://themall.earthlink.net/.

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