RealTime IT News

E-Tailers Enjoying Pre-Holiday Sales Crush

It's turning out to be a merry little holiday shopping season indeed for most online merchants, and by one estimate, non-travel Internet sales on Saturday rang up to the tune of a 73 percent gain year over year.

That's particularly interesting because at-work shoppers with broadband access normally boost the Monday-through-Friday figures.

According to Web research and analysis firm comScore Networks, last Saturday saw consumers spend an estimated $243 million online, up 73 percent from a year ago. Last Thursday's figure was $288 million, up 23 percent, and Friday consumers spent $263 million, up 36 percent, according to comScore figures.

Somewhat surprising were Saturday's sales levels, comScore said. Normally, sales drop substantially from Friday to Saturday, when many online buyers are away from the convenience and speed of their workplace Internet connections. But with few remaining shopping days in this compressed shopping season, consumers appear to be increasingly dependent on the Web as a time saver across the board, comScore said.

Thursday, Dec. 12 was the peak shopping day so far this season, comScore said. And perhaps not surprisingly, it was the last day for Amazon.com shoppers to take advantage of free shipping on items that say "usually ships in 24 hours."

Amazon plans to offer guaranteed Christmas Eve Day delivery (on some items, not everything) right up until the close of business Dec. 22 - but of course procrastinators will pay some hefty shipping charges for the service.

Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos last week was quoted by a French newspaper as reaffirming Amazon's forecast of $1.3 billion to $1.4 billion in the last three months of the 2002. Amazon expects its 2002 revenues to be up about Amazon's revenues are expected to be up about 25 percent for the year.

Over-all, online shoppers are expected to spend $25 billion to $26 billion this quarter, up 58 percent to 65 percent from $15.8 billion a year earlier, comScore's analysts have said.

Comparison shopping outfit BizRate says that from Nov. 1 to Dec. 11, 2002, sales grew to $9.10 billion from $6.36 billion for the same period last year, a 43 percent increase. The top sales categories are computer hardware (including digital cameras), electronics, entertainment, apparel and toys and games, BizRate said.

BizRate also said a new study that it conducted shows that shoppers are visiting an average of four sites before deciding which merchant to buy from, and will visit their chosen merchant site an average of 2.5 visits before completing a transaction. While 90 percent of online buyers are comparison shopping across channels (stores, catalogs and online), 68 percent said the best deals are found online, and most shoppers like to start their search at merchant or comparison shopping sites.

Last week, online consumer spending racked up its first $2 billion week ever, according to comScore Networks. And Black Friday, the day after Thanksgiving, turned out to be a red-letter day for a lot of online retailers.

U.K shoppers are busy, too. Britain's Interactive Media in Retail Group (IMRG) last week reported that U.K. consumers spent a record $1.59 billion in November shopping online. The splurge represented a 95 percent jump from the previous November.

A separate survey by Web audience measurement group Nielsen//Netratings reported on Friday that 47 percent of Western European Internet users visited a shopping site in November, another record.

In the United States, online shopping activity has surged 44 percent since the beginning of the holiday season, according to the latest figures from the Nielsen//NetRatings' Holiday eCommerce Index. Toys and games posted double-digit growth, skyrocketing nearly 129 percent since the beginning of the 2002 season. Traffic to consumer electronics sites wasup nearly 87 percent.

"Heavy promotion for in-store pick-up (at sites such as BestBuy.com and CircuitCity.com) is an extra incentive for shoppers, providing more savings on shipping costs," said Patrick Thomas, senior Internet analyst at Nielsen//NetRatings.

Meanwhile, if you're the boss at your business, you might want to check up on who's being naughty at work.

It turns out that those of us who shop at work do most of our online purchasing around 9 a.m. when the cubicles begin to fill up, and another spike takes place at 2 in the afternoon as employees fight post-lunch malaise by exercising their credit cards, according to payment processing firm CyberSource.