Even Online, Department Stores Draw Holiday Crowds

It doesn’t make much sense that the day after Thanksgiving would signal the start of the online holiday shopping season, but consumers conditioned to shop in an offline world make the most of the traditional start of the gift-buying season.

According to the Holiday eCommerce Index from Nielsen//NetRatings, 22 percent more home Internet users did some online shopping the day after Thanksgiving compared to the daily average for Monday through Thursday. Last year, the Index recorded a 27 percent jump after Thanksgiving.

“These results suggest that Friday’s up tick was not as pronounced as it was a year ago,” said Sean Kaldor, vice president of analytical services at NetRatings. “That said, Friday drew 32 percent more shoppers than the prior Friday, which sets favorable expectations for the week as a whole.”

One trend that remains constant from last year is the popularity of virtual department stores that offer a number of products at one location. According to the Index, Amazon had 1.7 million unique visitors the day after Thanksgiving, increasing 33 percent from the previous Friday. Wal-Mart had a 132 percent spike in Web traffic, and Target traffic was up 152 percent in daily unique visitors.

“Five of the six top virtual department stores find their roots in strong brick-and-mortar brands, with Amazon as the only exception,” Kaldor said. “Having a brick-and-mortar presence has proven to be a successful online formula for virtual department stores.”

Despite their common affection for shopping on the day after Thanksgiving, major differences exist between online and offline shoppers, and it’s important the retailers understand these differences in order to more effectively market to consumers.

According to research by Avenue A’s Atlas DMT, which analyzed holiday shopping behavior data of 24 leading e-commerce companies from the day after Thanksgiving last year through Dec. 24, 2000, weekdays are the most active online shopping days during the holidays, while Saturdays are the most active for offline shopping. While the day after Thanksgiving and the days just before Christmas are the most popular offline shopping days, Dec. 7 was the biggest online shopping day.

Because of the time required for shipping, online shopping tapers off approximately 10 days before Christmas, the study found. Online shopping activity peaks during working hours at around 1 p.m. EST. Online shopping during the week following Christmas is very active, exceeding the overall per-week average for the holiday season.

Top Virtual Department Stores
Rank Site Unique Audience Percent
Friday 11/16 Friday 11/23
1. Amazon 1,279,117 1,694,817 33%
2. Wal-Mart 152,963 355,011 132%
3. Target 123,773 311,592 152%
4. Kmart 69,465 227,030 227%
5. Sears Roebuck 127,370 219,674 73%
6. JCPenney 116,503 216,501 86%
Source: Nielsen//NetRatings

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