Holiday online shopping dynamics: The 2016 season’s results are already coming in.

ohsOne of the neat aspects of online shopping is the ability to learn about consumer behaviors almost in real-time. No waiting around for published reports that are released months after the fact.

Moreover, we can know quite a bit more than simply gross sales figures, including traffic stats.

In fact, we already have extensive information available about consumer online shopping activities in the 2016 holiday season, thanks to data released by firms such as Connexity’s Hitwise division, which measures consumer behaviors across desktop, tablet and smartphone devices.

From Hitwise, we know that its Top 500 retail websites received more than 335 million visits on Thanksgiving Day alone. That averages out to just under 14 million visits per hour … but the time period of 8 pm to 11 pm had more than 50% greater traffic compared to the hourly average for the day. was among the retailers receiving extensive traffic volume from 8 pm onward – in its case ~25% of its total traffic on Thanksgiving came in those final four hours of the day.

One supposes that after the “big meal,” the “big game” and the “big cleanup,” consumers decided cap off the day by plunking down at their computers or smartphones for some heavy-duty online shopping.

Hitwise found that Black Friday online shopping dynamics were different, with the top retail sites being busiest in the late morning hours, when site visits were around half again larger than Black Friday’s daily hourly average.

As for Cyber Monday, Hitwise found that consumer online shopping dynamics weren’t very much different from any other typical Monday – except that the overall volume (nearly 330 million visits) was substantially higher than the typical Monday volume of ~200 million visits. That, and a slightly greater-than-average share of online shopping happening in the early morning hours of 6, 7 and 8 am.

hwlAs for the persistent belief that Cyber Monday has more people shopping online during their time in the office, Hitwise is not seeing that phenomenon any longer.

Again, not very surprising in that more consumers have 24/7 access to digital devices in 2016 than they did ten or even just five years ago.

The Hitwise report for 2016 includes extensive findings not just on hourly shopping patterns, but also on product searches and key traffic drivers for the major online shopping websites. More data can be found on the Connexity/Hitwise website.

Online shopping insights: Why is the in-store pick-up option so popular?

With online shopping so popular these days, why are consumers electing to pick up the merchandise they’ve ordered at the store?


While it isn’t a pervasive practice, a study published recently by consumer analytics firm Connexity/Bizrate Insights finds that more than 30% of online shoppers have used in-store pick-up at least once during the past 12 months.

Even more surprising, perhaps, is that ~13% of respondents reported that they had considered abandoning a purchase because in-store pick-up wasn’t offered as an option.

As it turns out, people choose the in-store pick-up option for four major reasons:

  • To avoid paying shipping charges: ~55% cited
  • For the convenience: ~43%
  • Need to receive the order quickly: ~36%
  • Shopping online to ensure the item is available: ~29%

At first blush, I wouldn’t think that “convenience” means having to drive to a store versus having the product delivered right to the house. But perhaps “convenience” in this sense is related to product availability – avoiding a fruitless trip to the store only to find out after-the-fact that the desired product isn’t in stock.

But the other reasons cited make good sense, too. Everyone understands the desire to save money – if not on the product itself, then by avoiding shipping charges.  And if a quick drive to the store gets you the items compared to waiting a few days for the shipment to arrive, that’s understandable as well.

The Connexity findings underscore how important it is for retailers to align their e-commerce setups to allow for in-store pick-up – especially if the economics don’t allow them to offer a free shipping option. There’s simply too much competition from online-only retailers to afford losing sale to them based on any of the four factors listed above.

Will there be holiday cheer in retail sales this season?

Holiday Shopping ForecastHere’s a statistic that surprises no one, probably:  As of November 1st, more than one in five U.S. consumers had already begun their holiday season shopping.

Considering that many merchants begin pushing online and in-store holiday sales in October, it’s hardly any wonder.

In fact, marketing firm IgnitionOne is predicting that American consumers will spend 11% more during Thanksgiving weekend than they did last year.

Some of the increase is undoubtedly due to the calendar; Thanksgiving weekend is nearly a full week later than it was in 2012.

And other forecasting data don’t presage a big jump in holiday sales this year.

According to the National Retail Federation, sales are expected to be “not too hot … not too cold” – up a tad from 2012 but not at the growth level witnessed in 2010 and 2011:

  • 2009:  0.5% sales increase over previous year
  • 2010:  5.3% increase
  • 2011:  5.1% increase
  • 2012:  3.5% increase
  • 2013 (forecast):  3.9% increase to $602 billion

Clues to the reasons behind the middling sales growth forecast can be found in Nielsen’s Holiday Spending Forecast report, in which American consumers describe their financial circumstances in these terms:

  • Two-thirds still feel like they’re in a recession.
  • Half are limited to spending funds on only the basics.
  • One in five has no spare cash at all.

How this translates to the amount of dollars consumers expect to spend on their holiday shopping breaks down as follows:

  • ~44% will spend less than $250 this season
  • ~30% will spend between $250 and $500
  • ~20% will spend between $500 and $1,000
  • ~6% will spend more than $1,000

As in years past, the most popular gift item promises to be … gift cards.  Technology products, toys, food and apparel round out the “top five” holiday gifts.  This is little changed from last year.

And here’s one other stat that retail establishments must be looking at:  Mobile commerce sales grew by ~16% during the holiday season between 2011 and 2012, and ~18% of shoppers checked out deals on their mobile devices.

Those percentages are bound to increase this year.

More findings from Nielsen’s 2013 Holiday Spending Forecast study can be found here.

Getting Bunky with Retail Marketing

digital circularsAre the days of the lowly printed sales circular numbered?

Judging from the flurry of newfangled activity by key retail marketers, it would seem so.

This past week, CVS Pharmacy announced a complete makeover of its weekly circular.  The new digital version, dubbed myWeekly Ad, incorporates customized promotions focused on the products that are deemed of greatest interest to individual consumers.

The personalized sale items are determined from scanning the trove of customer buying behavior information housed in CVS’s ExtraCare Rewards database, which now numbers more than 70 million active users.

The myWeekly Ad circular determines which items to feature based on the products that each targeted consumer buys most frequently, along with showcasing deals on other products in related categories that may also be of interest based on the purchase history of each customer.

CVS’s digital circular provides other user-friendly options as well:

  • Consumers can scan the savings and rewards currently available to them, and print coupons or digitally send special offers to their card before visiting a CVS store. 
  • Shopping lists can be created, shared and sent to mobile devices. 
  • Shoppers can view their own purchase history showing all products bought at CVS previously going back 18 months.

And CVS is hardly alone in digitizing its MarComm materials.  Thanks to the continuing evolution of rewards cards and the voluminous customer data they can collect, new personalized circular announcements are coming with regularity now.

Here are some of the latest new developments:

  • Shoplocal is a Gannett-owned print and digital circular publisher.  It has gotten together with personalized video firm Eyeview to create a new digital ad promo piece known as V-circular.  This vehicle allows retailers and major brands to target customers on a local level based on geographic, demographic and behavioral data – along with factoring in “real-time” conditions like the weather.
  • National coupon clearinghouse Valpak has introduced a novel “augmented reality” feature for its digital circulars.  Simply pointing a smartphone toward the horizon will enable shoppers to see which nearby businesses are offering coupons.
  • Direct mail media and marketing services firm Valassis has unveiled Geo-Commerce Retail Zone, a new ad-targeting capability that applies transaction and behavior data from consumers to local store trading areas, enabling targeted advertising to be delivered cross-platform.

No one questions the fact that more and more information on individual consumers is being collected, archived and applied on an individualized basis.  Anonymity is fast becoming a quaint notion of the past.

Of course, this couldn’t happen without the cooperation and willing engagement of consumers. 

Considering the benefits – special discounts and even freebies on goods and services – is it any wonder that these programs have been able to grow in size and comprehensiveness over time?

What are your thoughts about the tradeoffs?  Feel free to add your thoughts to the discussion.

U.S. consumers: More comfortable than ever making online purchases.

Online purchasingHave U.S. consumers finally gotten over their skittishness about making purchases over the Internet? A newly released study from Javelin Strategy & Research suggests that they have.

The 2010-2014 Online Retail Payments Forecast report draws its findings from data collected online in November 2009 from a randomly selected panel of nearly 3,300 U.S. consumers representing a representative cross-sample by age, gender and income levels.

Based on the Javelin sample, nearly two-thirds of American consumers are now either “comfortable” or “very comfortable” with shopping online.

On the other end of the scale, ~22% of U.S. consumers continue to be wary of online purchasing; these people haven’t made an online purchase within the past year … or in some cases, never.

These figures suggest that the consumer comfort level with making online purchases is as high as it’s ever been. And how are consumers making their online payments? The Javelin study reports that among those respondents reporting online activities, the five most popular payment methods are:

 Major credit card: 70%
 Major debit card: 55%
 Online payment service such as PayPal®: 51%
 Gift card (good at one specific merchant): 41%
 Store-branded credit card (good at one specific merchant): 27%

Even with more than half of consumers using a debit card for online purchases, the total dollar volume of online sales attributable to debit cards is less than 30%. Javelin forecasts debit card share to continue climbing in the short-term, however, due to tighter consumer credit standards now in force.

Bottom line, the Javelin report suggests that despite the periodic horror stories that have been published about credit card information and other financial data being captured or mined off the Internet, the convenience and price/selection benefits of online shopping are winning the day with consumers. Not surprising at all, really.