Brands and Discounts Attract Online Shoppers Over Thanksgiving Weekend

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Name recognition, promotions and discounts mattered most to at-home online shoppers just as they did to those trekking into stores over Thanksgiving weekend.


EBay, Amazon, Walmart.com, Target, Best Buy, Overstock.com, Circuit City, Dell and the Shopping.com and Shopzilla comparison shopping networks saw the most online activity on their sites on Black Friday.


That top-10 list, from Nielsen//NetRatings, was pretty similar to one compiled by Hitwise. It also included Sears, JC Penney, craigslist and Yahoo Shopping in its own 15 most-trafficked sites on Black Friday.


The extreme growth of Wal-Mart, Target, Circuit City and Best Buy is what caught the eye of Nielsen//NetRatings senior analyst Heather Dougherty from New York.


"The strength of their brands is key," Dougherty said. "People are checking their sites before going to the stores. And also, this goes along with the categories that saw the most growth. All of them sold toys, video games, consumer electronics and computer hardware, which really mirrors what some of the top gifts are going to be this year."


At-home online traffic in the toys/videogames category was up 151.8 percent Nov. 25 versus Nov. 18, according to Nielsen//NetRatings. Consumer electronics was up 142 percent, computer hardware/software 101.8 percent, apparel 99 percent, flowers and gifts 95.3 percent, and home and garden 87.3 percent.


Not far behind were categories like comparison shopping and portals, jewelry, retail, books/music/video, up 84 percent, 71.3 percent, 40.5 percent and 3.8 percent, respectively.


Familiarity breeds content. Nielsen//NetRatings' Nov. 25 versus Nov. 18 comparison of Black Friday online traffic showed Wal-Mart was up 120 percent to 3.39 million unique visitors and Target up 143 percent to 2.9 million. Best Buy was up 75 percent to 2.1 million unique visitors, and Circuit City was 102 percent higher at 1.76 million.


By contrast, eBay and Dell were each down 8 percent in unique visitors to 9.48 million and 1.6 million, respectively.


"The biggest reason I would attribute that to is scale, because they have such big user bases, but for Dell you're getting increased competition from players like Wal-Mart, Best Buy and Circuit City, which are offering significant price discounts on laptops and PCs," Dougherty said. "For eBay, it's broadly attributed to consumers looking for new products online and they don't think of eBay as a source for those products."


However, Amazon was up 11 percent to 4.64 million, while the Shopping.com network increased 27 percent to 1.49 million and the Shopzilla.com network up 13 percent to 1.3 million. Overstock.com was up 71 percent to 1.87 million unique visitors.


Overall, Black Friday at-home online traffic increased 29 percent this year to 17.19 million, according to Nielsen//NetRatings. Last year's Black Friday traffic was up 11 percent to 13.28 million unique visitors on Nov. 26 and the year before up 74 percent to 11.92 million on Nov. 28. Traffic rose 65 percent to 6.86 million unique visitors on Nov. 29, 2002 versus the year-ago Black Friday's 4.17 million on Nov. 23.


What such numbers prove is that the Internet has become a valuable reference tool for channel-wide shopping.


"One of the key things we see here with Black Friday traffic is that people are going online and research and check prices, both before going to stores as well as buying online," Dougherty said. "Also interesting is the comparison shopping tools seeing increases because their top results look across a wide variety of sites."


Don't ignore Thanksgiving Day. Though only convenience stores and supermarkets remained open for a few hours on Thanksgiving Day, online retail was ready for business. A look at Hitwise data showed eBay took 16.2 percent of all U.S. online traffic. The eBay data excluded standalone visits to eBay Motors and eBay stores.


Walmart.com came in at second place, with a 4.85 market share and Amazon third at 2.8 percent. Circuit City, BestBuy.com, Target and Dell USA took shares of 2.72 percent, 2.7 percent, 1.84 percent and 1.65 percent, respectively.


Sears, BestBuy Weekly Specials at bestbuy.dailyshopper.com and craigslist took in 1.09 percent, 0.9 percent and 0.77 percent, respectively, Hitwise said. Those up to 0.56 percent were JC Penney, Shopzilla's BizRate.com, Shopping.com, Overstock.com and Kmart, in that order.


Price matters. Hitwise's list, like Nielsen//NetRatings' rankings, confirms that those retailers that offer attractive discounts and enticing promotions like free shipping will win a share of wallet in a pressured holiday season. The start to this year's season is no different as consumers weigh those factors with ease of e-commerce transactions and rising gas prices.


"When you ask consumers what's the top reason for going online, they always say price for online buying," Dougherty said. "Online retailers for years have tried to shake the bargain-basement image of online retail, but consumers continue to heavily rely on price and discounting."


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