Shoppers Gearing Up for Season

The online shopping season may not have officially begun but sales were strong and steady for the third quarter of 2002, according to comScore Networks.

The measurement firm has tallied up the figures for the third quarter of 2002 and found that total consumer online sales reached $17.9 billion, up 35 percent from the third quarter of 2001 and up 2 percent from the second quarter of 2002.

Year-to-date sales through September 30 totaled $52.5 billion, up 41 percent versus the same period in 2001, and nearly equal to the $53.1 billion in spending posted in all of 2001. Late-breaking sales data indicate that the fourth quarter opened strongly, with sales of non-travel goods totaling $918 million during the week ending October 6, the highest level posted in the year to date.

“Given increased momentum in the early weeks of October, the industry is poised to meet — and potentially exceed — comScore’s fourth quarter non-travel expectation of $13.8 billion,” said Michelle David Adams, vice president, comScore Networks.

Non-travel e-commerce represented almost $9.9 billion in 3Q 2002, up 30 percent from a year ago, and 1 percent from 2Q 2002. Less money was spent on travel but the gains were stronger: the more than $8 billion spent in 3Q 2002 represented a 40 percent gain from 3Q 2001 and a 3 percent increase from 2Q 2002.

However, growth rates for online travel sales are declining. In 2002, year-over-year quarterly sales growth decreased from 87 percent in the first quarter to 40 percent in the third quarter. Still, with growth rates outpacing those in the non-travel sector, travel continues to gain an increasing share of total consumer online dollars: 43 percent in the first three quarters of 2002, up from 39 percent during the same period last year.

Online Consumer Sales at U.S. Sites
(Excluding Auctions and Large Corporate Purchases)
Top 10 Non-Travel Product Categories
Quarterly Category
Q3 2002 Spending
% Change vs.
% Change Vs.
Prior Quarter
Computer Hardware $2,661 35% 17%
Office $1,422 47% -7%
Apparel & Accessories $1,312 22% 4%
Consumer Electronics $844 18% 18%
Books $538 10% -5%
Event Tickets $448 33% -33%
Home & Garden $388 16% -12%
Health & Beauty $259 21% -14%
Sport & Fitness $252 47% 12%
Movies & Video $202 34% 1%
Source: comScore Networks

More evidence that the shopping season has already begun comes from a Terra Lycos survey that indicates 41 percent of Internet users have already made holiday purchases. Others are waiting until the day after Thanksgiving — known as “Black Friday” — and December (25 percent and 26 percent respectively), with 7 percent procrastinating until the last minute on December 24.

Meanwhile, other research that was conducted among different firms during the same general time period (September and October 2002) found that e-commerce is a viable option over braving the mall for some holiday shoppers.

An online survey from CoolSavings conducted among 4,230 respondents found that “long lines and crowds” caused stress in 34 percent of the men and 24 percent of the women that were polled.

Women were more stressed about “getting the best price” than men (26 percent compared to 16 percent), and men and women worry equally about knowing the right gifts to buy (35 percent and 34 percent respectively).

More than 80 percent of respondents said they would rely on online research for making decisions on holiday gift purchases, regardless of whether they ultimately buy online or in retail stores. A smaller portion (18 percent) said they will “check for everything I’m interested in online,” while 64 percent indicated they will “pick and choose certain items I feel need more information about online.” In this regard, men were 6 percent more likely to say they will research their holiday gift purchases online. As far as making purchases online, 61 percent of all respondents said they would make at least a quarter of their holiday purchases online this year.

“Families struggle to keep up their holiday traditions amid a busier lifestyle than we remember as kids,” said Matt Moog, chief executive officer of CoolSavings. “Using the Internet is clearly one of the ways our members plan to save money, avoid crowds, and hopefully reduce the stress of holiday shopping.”

A poll of 7,686 consumers conducted by the National Retail Federation (NRF) found that almost half (46 percent) were planning to shop online as part of their multiple channel strategy. More than three-quarters (77 percent) of respondents indicated that they would patronize discount department stores followed by traditional department stores (53 percent), specialty retailers (45 percent) and catalog (37 percent).

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