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Holidays come early for retail sites

Andrea Lillo -- Home Textiles Today, December 9, 2002

New York — While bricks-and-mortar stores saw comps dive for the month of November, holiday sales for online sites took off like a rocket —exploding by 61 percent on Black Friday alone.

The total take for that day, Nov. 29, reached $234.2 million, according to e-commerce research group BizRate.com. Overall online sales during the month of November jumped 37 percent to $5.4 billion, suggesting that Black Friday was not a one-day aberration.

"All over the Internet, consumers are finding better prices, free shipping and more retailers wooing consumers' limited budgets this season," said Chuck Davis, president and ceo, BizRate.com.

Nielsen/NetRatings reported that the number of Internet surfers who shopped online on Black Friday rose 18 percent. Virtual department stores drew 3.2 million visitors, shopping aggregators more than 2.5 million and consumer electronics some 838,000. Value-oriented sites and the toys & games categories rounded out Nielson's top five with 738,000 and 603,000 visitors, respectively. Home and garden sites drew 226,000 unique visitors, down 6 percent from last year, putting the category in ninth place for traffic.

The sales momentum for e-commerce moving toward Christmas looks positive. Almost half of holiday shoppers will hit the Internet, according to a national survey conducted by Greenfield Online on behalf of Aspect Communications.

Jupiter Research's Holiday Sales survey predicts U.S. holiday on-line retail sales will balloon to $13.1 billion this season (Nov. 1 to Dec. 31), a 17 percent increase over the prior year. Because the high point of the season ends around Dec. 17, when most online retailers can no longer guarantee delivery of orders shipping by the lowest-cost method, retailers must provide incentives for customers to purchase earlier, Jupiter said.

More online retailers plan to offer no-fee or discounted shipping and handling promotions (59 percent) as opposed to those offering fixed-dollar discounts and free gifts with purchases (47 percent).

Home-related categories will see the biggest sales gain this year, Jupiter predicts, including a 61 percent increase for bed and bath products.

The good news for bricks-and-mortar retailers after Black Friday was that by Nov. 30 only 8.2 percent of consumers said they had completed their holiday shopping, according to a report from the National Retail Federation (NRF). As of last week, the average consumer has completed less than half (38.7 percent) of the shopping she intended to do, the NRF found.

Taking a look at shopping patterns, we see that consumers are either taking advantage of bargains to purchase items for themselves or, perhaps, they are subconsciously buying items for others that they would like to receive themselves," said Phil Rist, vp of strategy for BIGresearch.

Top gifts purchased in stores over the post-Thanksgiving weekend were books, CDs, DVDs, videos or video games (41.0 percent), clothing or clothing accessories (40.4 percent), toys (34.6 percent), and home decor or home-related furnishings (23.7 percent).

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