Holiday E-Commerce Activity Off To A Fast Start

The three days following Thanksgiving delivered a strong beginning to the online Christmas shopping season, several reports suggest.

While sales figures will have to wait for Cyber Monday (Nov 26), Monday (Dec 3) and Green Monday (Dec 10) – the 3 heaviest online shopping days for 2011, according to Jefferies analyst Brian Pitz – all signs point to record-breaking activity for e-commerce this year. Two big trends appear to be driving it: first, increasing consumer confidence, and second, the continued mainstreaming of online shopping.

Black Friday online sales are expected to exceed $1 billion for the first time, Pitz says. Citing comScore numbers, Pitz points to online sales rising 26 percent year-over-year (2011’s day-after-Thanksgiving also showed a 26 percent gain over the same day in 2010). That steady 26 percent growth pattern might not seem impressive, but consider the sales figures for Thanksgiving Day itself: this year saw a 32 percent rise in online sales on what is typically a slow shopping day compared to the 19 growth in e-commerce activity in 2011. To put that in further context, ShopperTrak estimates that there was a 1.8 percent decline in retail store sales on Black Friday.

Overall, comScore says 57.3 million Americans visited online retail sites this Black Friday (up 18% Y/Y). The big winner appears to be Amazon, which comScore ranked as the top site, with most visitors and the highest visitor growth year-over-year.

Another winner this season is eBay, which experienced 24 percent higher search activity and a 14 percent rise in Comparison Shopping, according to ChannelAdvisor.

The other big trend in e-commerce is the growth in mobile activity, which has almost doubled from 2011. eBay appears to be benefiting here more than Amazon, but Pitz cites company reports, so consider that verdict to be a bit preliminary. Mobile activity on eBay increased 133 percent on Thanksgiving Day and 153 percent on Black Friday, both in comparison to the same days in 2011. PayPal usage rose 173 percent during those days as well.

Further proof of mobile’s shopping potency so far comes from IBM Digital Analytics Benchmark, which tracks e-commerce data from 500 retailers nationwide. IBM found that an average of 22.4 percent of online shoppers for a given site used their smartphones to do some digital browsing, while the average number of consumers using their mobile device to make a purchase was 12 percent. For the most part, Apple’s iPhone is driving more retail shopping than any other device with traffic reaching 8.7 percent versus 7.2 percent and 6.3 percent for iPad and Google Android respectively.

Still, consumer sentiment, while a bit more positive, remains shaky. That’s especially true in the northeast, where many people are still suffering from the lingering effects of Hurricane Sandy three weeks ago. But as Cantor Fitzgerald analyst Youseff Squali says in a research note, the holiday deals and the ease of online have helped pave over concerns about shopping.

“While consumers remain value sensitive, they appear to be willing to increase their spend despite the macro uncertainty,” Squali says. He’s calling for a 15 to 18 percent rise in e-commerce when the dust settles on the 2012 shopping season.

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