E-Commerce Numbers Add Up in December

Americans spent $2.6 billion online during the first week of December, jumping 91 percent from the $1.4 billion spent during an average week in November, according to data from the eSpending report by Goldman Sachs, Harris Interactive and Nielsen//NetRatings.

“The surge in online buying this past week is a critical first sign that online spending in December will increase faster than November’s modest 10 percent annual growth,” said Sean Kaldor, vice president of analytical services at NetRatings. “For a successful December, consumers will need to maintain these aggressive spending levels for the next two weeks.”

On average, Americans spent $91 online during the week ending Dec. 7, an increase of $14 from the week prior. Twenty percent of those surveyed made an online purchase during the week ending Dec. 7, as compared to 18 percent the previous week.

Increasing satisfaction among online shoppers was also found among consumers, with 45 percent of those surveyed reporting that they are very satisfied with their online shopping experience this year and another 14 percent being somewhat satisfied.

“The majority of shoppers are finding their online shopping experience to be quite satisfactory, with few reports of problems or failures,” said Lori Iventosch-James, director of e-commerce research at Harris Interactive. “Moreover, 25 percent of shoppers report being more satisfied with their online holiday shopping experience this year as compared to last year. This is another sign that online shopping will continue to grow as a desirable alternative to going to the malls.”

Given the time needed to ship online purchases, the first week of December could be the peak for online shopping. Thirty-nine percent of online shoppers reported they were in the middle of completing their online holiday shopping, with 14 percent having started during the first week of December. Only 15 percent of all Americans had yet to begin their online holiday shopping, while the remaining 46 percent have finished for the season.


E-Commerce Growth Rates
and 2001 Monthly Spending

(U.S.)
Month Yearly
Growth

(2000-2001)
2001 Monthly
Spending

(billions)
April 73.1% $4.5
May 103.5% $5.4
June 71.2% $5.3
July 39.0% $4.9
August 57.2% $5.6
September 53.7% $4.7
October 25.0% $4.6
November 10.1% $5.3
Source: Nielsen//NetRatings and Harris Interactive

The Jupiter Media Metrix Online Shopping Index, which aggregates Web visitors from both home and work to nearly 500 shopping sites and 19 subcategories, increased 50 percent during the week ending Dec. 9 compared to the same week last year, climbing from 34.9 million to 52.4 million unique visitors. Additionally, the index was up one percent compared to the previous week, when there were 51.7 million visitors.

“While this week last year marked the downturn in holiday traffic to shopping sites, traffic continues to increase steadily this year,” said Charles Buchwalter, vice president of media research at Jupiter Media Metrix. “A variety of deals and extended free-shipping incentives are contributing to this week’s shopping activity. And with many brick-and-mortar stores offering gift-purchasing online and pick-up in stores, it’s likely we’ll see more last-minute online shopping this year.”

The top gaining online shopping categories, ranked according to their percent-change in average daily visitors versus the previous week, include healthcare, which increased 56 percent to 961,000 average daily visitors; consumer goods, which increased 27 percent to 1.2 million; and flowers/gifts/greetings, which increased 23 percent to 1.7 million.

For the week ending Dec. 9, comScore reported that total online consumer sales of $1.5 billion reflected continued strength in Hard Goods, which turned in record sales of nearly $1.2 billion, a weekly level double the benchmark average established in the five months prior to September 2001.

With an impressive sales tally of over five times the benchmark level, toys again led the pack in category growth. All things electronic also performed well: Consumer Electronics, Computer Hardware and Video Games each turned in sales levels of more than 100 percent above average.

After a strong performance in the week ending Dec. 2, when sales reached $418 million, the online Travel category unfortunately nosed down to approximately $325 million.

“It’s certainly disappointing that after the strong showing we reported for the week after Thanksgiving, last week’s Travel sales declined to levels we had seen in previous weeks,” said Dan Hess, comScore vice president. “We suspect that immediately following Thanksgiving, sales surged as consumers completed travel bookings they had postponed while celebrating the holiday. By the following week, however, much of this demand had been met — and many tickets were sold at sharply reduced prices, dampening the effect of those bookings on total travel dollar sales.”

November E-Commerce Sales

E-commerce spending in November 2001 jumped 10 percent from November 2000, according to data from the eSpending Report. Despite the gains in visitors and spending, the data indicate that the 2001 holiday season will achieve more modest gains than previously expected. The ten percent annual growth is the lowest seen this year.

September online spending jumped 54 percent year-over-year, while October increased 25 percent, setting expectations for a healthy holiday season. November’s data reveal that e-commerce sales rebounded to $5.3 billion, on par with pre-September spending levels. Spending rose 14 percent from October to November, half of the 29 percent increase seen in 2000.

Several sectors have experienced slower than expected growth, including clothing/apparel, consumer electronics and toys. Bucking this trend, health and beauty products, videos and home and garden products have spiked more than 50 percent from a year ago.

The Returns Yet to Come

According to a November 2001 Jupiter Consumer Survey, 81 percent of online consumers expect that brick-and-mortar retailers will allow them to return products purchased online to a nearby store. Moreover, 41 percent of online consumers expressed reluctance to buy online due to concerns over returns, according to a separate consumer survey fielded in October 2001.

“Returns are a big concern for consumers thinking about buying gifts online in time for holiday deadlines,” said Ken Cassar, Jupiter senior analyst. “With the ability to offer online purchasing and in-store pick-up and returns, multichannel retailers are in a unique position to minimize the return concerns on the minds of many consumers. Brick-and-mortar retailers should infuse this message across all promotions, especially in the next few weeks leading up to the holidays.”

Convenience Remains Key

The average American consumer will spend up to $600 this season both online and in stores, according to NFO InDepth Interactive. But where consumers spend their $600 all depends upon convenience.

A recent NFO study of more than 2,000 consumers found that 72 percent of Americans rank convenience as the No. 1 factor affecting their decision of where to shop. With this in mind, many consumers are planning to spend less time in retail stores and more time online, especially in comparison to 2000, with three out of 10 respondents stating that they would spend more time shopping online this year. People are still planning on going into the bricks and mortar stores — as long as they’re convenient and affordable.

One-stop affordable retail outlets rank highest as the convenient shoppers’ outlet of choice this season. Wal-Mart ranks the highest with 70 percent of respondents planning to visit a store during the holidays. K-Mart ranks second with 52 percent, followed by Target with 50 percent.

The growth of online and commitment to brick-and-mortar shops will also affect catalog shopping with four out of 10 consumers cutting back on time/money spent via mail and telephone.

The winners in the online category are clear-cut. Amazon.com rules the day with 48.8 percent of consumers planning to visit the e-tailer, followed by eBay at 25.1 percent. Traditional retail stores with strong online components are the runners up: Barnes & Noble, followed by Toys R Us and Wal-Mart.

Some of the other findings from the study include:

  • The need for convenience increases as the amount of spending rises. For those spending $2000 or more per year (3 percent of respondents) it is the primary concern
  • Importance of promotions and coupons also appears to increase with planned spending amounts
  • Safety/terrorism fears only effects 4 percent of people making shopping decisions.

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