Taking Account of the Holiday Shopping Season

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Taking Account of the Holiday Shopping Season

By Paula Bernier, Executive Editor, TMC  |  February 12, 2013

This article originally appeared in the Jan./Feb. 2013 issue of CUSTOMER magazine.

Online shopping for the 2012 holiday season set new records. As of Nov. 28, online holiday sales had reached $16.4 billion, a 16 percent increase from spending during the same period in 2011.

“That we are seeing growth come from an increase in both the number of buyers and the average spending per buyer suggests broad-based strength in the e-commerce sector,” said comScore chairman Gian Fulgoni. “It reflects not only the health of the e-commerce channel as more people buy online, but also the health of the consumer who has been willing to spend more online this year than last. It’s particularly noteworthy that half of the online population has made an e-commerce purchase thus far in the holiday season.”

Purchases conducted via computers, smartphones and tablets exceeded $1 billion both on Black Friday (News - Alert), on Cyber Monday, and on at least one other day this holiday season, according to comScore. Black Friday online sales in 2012 totaled $1.042 billion, a 28 percent increase from 2011 on the same day. And Cyber Monday sales increased 17 percent from 2011 to 2012, when online spending on this day hit $1.46 billion.

That growth, according to ComScore, was driven both by an increase in the number of buyers (up 9 percent to 128.7 million) and the average spending per buyer (up 5 percent to $165.90). It reflects a higher number of transactions per buyer (up 4 percent to $2.19 per buyer) as opposed to a significantly larger amount per transaction (up only 1 percent to $75.90). Cyber Monday shoppers spent an average $194.46 online, more than the average person spent online over the Thanksgiving weekend ($172.42), according to a BIGinsight survey for Shop.org.

The most popular items purchased online, according to comScore, included digital content and subscriptions, which grew 28 year-over-year; consumer electronics; video games, consoles and accessories; and jewelry and watches.

Smartphones and tablets played an important role during the online holiday buying season not only because they were among the top products purchased in the consumer electronics space, but also due to their role in the online shopping process. Accenture (News - Alert) Interactive reports that 72 percent of consumers aged 20-40 in the United States and the United Kingdom use mobile devices while in-store to compare prices, but the majority leave before making a purchase. It appears that many may be making their purchases online instead.

Stephen Pierzchala, technology strategist at application performance monitoring outfit Compuware (News - Alert) APM, says that November and December marked a “coming out party” for mobile.  Pierzchala adds that, increasingly, people are using their mobile devices not only to browse and do comparison shopping, but also to purchase items. The increase in mobile usage for both Thanksgiving Day and Black Friday was staggering, according to Compuware, which reports that mobile commerce was up both days by more than 250 percent as compared to 2011.

“Mobile has been the poster child of the 2012 shopping season,” he says.

And, increasingly, consumers are using tablets as opposed to just smartphones to browse and buy. Forrester predicts that by 2016 one in three Americans will own a tablet, and that tablet e-commerce traffic is growing exponentially, already surpassing traditional smartphone traffic, yet only 7 percent of retailers have tablet-optimized their websites and mobile apps.

So popular is the use of smartphones and tablets that comScore recently announced the U.S. Beta release of Media Metrix Multi-Platform, a digital audience measurement and media planning tool that now addresses mobile devices.

“As an active investor in mobile and web businesses, I have been dying for an accurate consolidated view of web, mobile web, iOS, and Android audience data. comScore has delivered exactly what I've been seeking for the U.S. audience and I am looking forward to seeing them tackle the global audience next,” says Fred Wilson, managing partner of Union Square Ventures.

Considering that retailers saw an unprecedented amount of online action this holiday season both from mobile and other connected devices, the performance of their websites did great, indicates Compuware’s Pierzchala. He notes that it’s not unusual for this level of activity to create website outages, but that there were no known instances of major retailers having such experiences.

However, he adds, retailers will have to do this all over again in less than a year, and the online activity is likely to be even greater next time around. That said, Pierzchala suggests retailers – especially those whose websites and mobile apps tie with various third-party online entities – start planning now to ensure they can again deliver top-drawer online experiences.

“Performance is a journey, not a goal,” he says.

While retailers can optimize their online experiences by investing in acceleration solutions, he says they should also take a good look at how they might simplify their websites.  

Many websites are designed using JavaScript and cascading files, he says, but sometimes such sites require up to 45 files to load before the visitor sees the first thing on a screen. In such situations, he says, companies should look to reduce the number of files on their websites, concatenating their JavaScript, and/or making sure content is positioned on the page in a way that doesn’t interfere with the loading of that page.

Retailers might want to suggest that their partners do that same, considering that when issues and slowdowns were detected with sites, in most cases it resulted from third-party content performance issues, not problems with the host site, he says.

That’s a noteworthy piece of information, particularly because we’re seeing important companies working to position themselves as online shopping destinations. Of course, Amazon is the granddaddy of online shopping aggregation, having started with book sales and expanded to sell just about anything and everything, be it tactile or digital. And, just in time for the 2012 holiday shopping season, Google (News - Alert) got into the online shopping game in a much bigger way with a wide variety of new content and capabilities.

Google was ready for the online shopping season with the following, recently-announced features: a list of hot toys; rankings of products in popular categories, including a 1-10 rating program called GoodGuide; featured products that can be viewed online from all angles; maps to help shoppers use their mobiles to navigate physical malls and select retailers most effectively; a tool called Shortlists to enable shoppers to research products and share interest in products with family and friends; and a single-source online destination to enable shoppers to view catalogs from select popular retailers (this was actually unveiled in 2011, but now includes catalogs from such popular retailers as Eddie Bauer, JCrew and Williams Sonoma). As part of its shopping initiative, Google is offering retailers the ability to add promotions to their product listings on Google Shopping and/or distribute their promotions on other Google properties such as Google Maps for Android and the Google Offers app.

Competitor Microsoft (News - Alert), with its Bing search engine, launched a holiday campaign calling out Google on the fact that the Google shopping program is more a promotional tool for retailers than a helpful solution for consumers.

"Google shopping is nothing more than a list of targeted ads that unsuspecting customers assume are search results," Bing said. "We say that when you limit choices and rank them by payment, consumers get Scroogled. For an honest search result, try Bing."

Five Fastest Desktop Homepages – November 22-29 2012

1.       Apple

2.       Costco

3.       Dell

4.       JC Penney

5.       Macys

Five Fastest Mobile Homepages – November 22-29 2012

1.       Office Depot

2.       Barnes and Noble

3.       Williams-Sonoma

4.       Buy.com

5.       Sears

Source: Compuware

Edited by Brooke Neuman
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