E-shopping spikes in US holiday season

TERMS AND AGREEMENTS::While revenue from online shopping has gone up, retailers may also face higher costs in terms of shipping a larger number of packages to customers


Mon, Nov 26, 2012 - Page 15

Online shopping in the US has grown sharply so far this holiday shopping season after retailers pushed out a slew of mobile and Internet deals that lured consumers before Cyber Monday today, traditionally the biggest day for e-commerce in the US.

While it remains to be seen if the gains over Thanksgiving Day and Black Friday can be sustained, the latest estimates show shoppers scooping up early special offers via their smartphones and tablets the way they used to hunt for bargains in brick-and-mortar stores.

Online sales increased 17.4 percent on Thanksgiving and 20.7 percent on Black Friday compared with last year, according to IBM Smarter Commerce, a unit of International Business Machines Corp that analyzes transactions from 500 US retailers.

Black Friday, the day after Thanksgiving, had traditionally been the start to the holiday season for stores. This year, retailers such as Wal-Mart Stores Inc and Target Corp made their biggest push ever with special offers during the holiday itself.

“The Thanksgiving creep revitalized the thrill for people,” WSL Strategic Retail chief executive Wendy Liebmann said. “It got people excited to go out. But it pulled a lot of sales forward.”

Visits to stores rose approximately 3.5 percent on Friday, down from a 4.7 percent increase last year, ShopperTrak said.

Sales actually fell an estimated 1.8 percent, said the company, which analyzes store traffic.

However, if Thursday’s sales were included, ShopperTrak estimates that Black Friday sales would have been up a little less than 1 percent from a year earlier.

“It’s not a superstar Black Friday, but it also wasn’t an underperform[ing] Black Friday,” ShopperTrak chief marketing office Ed Marcheselli said.

Cyber Monday, which follows the long holiday weekend, has been the biggest day for online shopping in recent years, as workers return to their office computers.

Now, armed with mobile devices, particularly Apple Inc’s iPad and iPhone, shoppers are no longer waiting. They are also using the devices to track down the lowest prices.

The average order value on Black Friday declined by 4.7 percent to US$181.22 and the average number of items per order dropped 12 percent to 5.6, IBM Corp said.

Client sales on Black Friday rose 23 percent from last year, while Thanksgiving sales rose 32 percent year-on-year, said Mercent, which helps merchants sell on Web sites, including Amazon.com, ebay.com and Google Inc’s online shopping program.

“What we don’t know is whether this is a zero-sum game or whether there is some benefit to retailers by broadening the holiday shopping window,” Best said. “There is risk that real growth in retail for the entire holiday may be overestimated based on these early numbers.”

E-commerce software firm ChannelAdvisor said clients’ same-store sales on EBay’s online market rose 27 percent on Thanksgiving and 31 percent on Black Friday compared with a year earlier.

Last year’s year-on-year growth was about 15 percent for EBay, ChannelAdvisor said.

“The online players are definitely participating more on Thanksgiving and Black Friday, so Cyber Monday is being shared with other holidays now,” ChannelAdvisor chief executive Scot Wingo said.

EBay usually grows more slowly early in the holiday season and then ramps up later as retailers run out of hot products and shoppers turn to EBay sellers for those items.

Its strong start this year is driven partly by the company’s success in attracting mobile shoppers through shopping apps on smart phones and tablets, Wingo said.

EBay on Saturday said that the volume of mobile transactions on its online marketplace jumped 153 percent on Black Friday compared with a year earlier.

PayPal, the payments division of EBay, saw Black Friday volume almost triple year-on-year.

More broadly, purchases from mobile devices accounted for 16.3 percent of online sales on Black Friday, up from 9.8 percent last year and 3.2 percent in 2010, IBM data show.

Apple’s iPads and iPhones led the charge, with owners using the devices to browse and buy on retailer Web sites.

Overall, the percentage of sales from online shopping is expected to rise.

However, while retailers bring in more revenue from online shopping, they may also face some higher costs in terms of shipping a larger number of packages to more shoppers.

Among tablets, iPads were the clear leader, generating 88.3 percent of traffic to retailers’ sites on Friday, followed by Barnes & Noble Inc’s Nook with 3.1 percent, Amazon.com Inc’s Kindle with 2.4 percent and Samsung Electronic Co’s Galaxy with 1.8 percent, IBM said.