Online Holiday Shopping Shows Modest Growth in Traffic, Sales

With more days to buy online this holiday season before shipping cut-offs, shoppers rang up $531 million in online retail spending on Black Friday, according to data released yesterday by comScore.

The research firm views the 22 percent growth in sales compared to Black Friday of last year as “a sign of positive momentum,” said comScore Chairman Gian Fulgoni in a statement. The $531 million total outpaces the overall growth rate of 17 percent, which occurred in the first 23 days of November when shoppers made transactions valued at a total of $9.3 billion online, according to comScore. Fulgoni said online spending on Black Friday is often an indicator for the rest of the season.

Sales for Cyber Monday are forecast to exceed $700 million, according to comScore.

Traffic to online shopping sites increased by a smaller percentage. Unique visitors to the 120 Web sites on the Nielsen//NetRatings Online Holiday eShopping Index went up by 10 percent on Black Friday. The day after Thanksgiving saw 21.2 million unique visitors across retailers on the index. Last year 19.2 million unique visitors were recorded.

“It’s not a fantastic increase in traffic, but certainly not disappointing traffic,” Ken Cassar, director of strategic analytics at Nielsen//NetRatings told ClickZ News. He warns, “Retailers that have become accustomed to 20-plus percent growth year-over-year may find themselves disappointed this year.”

Meanwhile, workplace shoppers continue to take advantage of high-speed Internet connections during lunchtime to shop. A recent study from Microsoft’s Atlas finds Internet activity on e-commerce sites peaks in the afternoon.

Cyber Monday online shopping activity and purchases from comScore and NetRatings have yet to be released. Akamai’s Global Retail Web Traffic Metrics reported a peak of 4.6 million visitors per minute, which occurred in the key online hours between noon and 4 p.m. EST.

“This is a big week, and Cyber Monday is the big day for people shopping from work,” said Cassar. “When we look at the broader picture that includes people shopping from work and home, we see it starting on Thursday [Thanksgiving], and probably rolling through about the 20th of December.”

A pre-holiday NetRatings survey of about 1,000 people found the most common reasons cited for shopping online include the ability to shop around the clock, save time, comparison shop, and find what they are looking for .

“The idea that online is about convenience is consistent with the story we’ve seen [in past years],” said Cassar. “The reason people are shopping online isn’t to save money, it’s to save time.”

Though convenience may be the primary factor, survey findings released by finds 72 percent of online retailers plan special promotions for Cyber Monday, up from 43 percent two years ago. Promotions include Cyber Monday deals (30 percent); two-day sales (29 percent); and free shipping (25 percent).

E-mail marketing pitches rolled in Monday. “Today only — Huge online deals!” promised Staples. Costco sent out an online holiday gift guide, featuring exclusive online offers through December 10, 2007. “More than $6,700 in savings,” Costo’s message read.

Cross-channel strategies that link online e-commerce sites to physical stores are also important, especially in a year with more shopping days between Thanksgiving and Christmas, than other years. From Thanksgiving Day through Christmas Eve, there are 32 shopping days in 2007, compared to 27 days between the two holidays next year.

“The long holiday shopping season is going to take the pressure off any single day,” said Cassar. “If we look at the impact of the longer holiday shopping season, I do believe it may compel people to spend more offline.”

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