Jury Still Out on Cyber Monday

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Though a final tally of revenue numbers may show otherwise, Cyber Monday is not living up to its hype, at least in terms of visits to leading online shopping sites.


The Monday after Thanksgiving received the least amount of at-home and at-work online visitor traffic to key shopping sites in the Nov. 24-28 period, according to market researcher Hitwise, New York.


"In terms of market share of visits, we don't see anything out of the ordinary from previous years," said Bill Tancer, general manager of research at Hitwise. "We still see Thanksgiving Day, for the last three years running, being the peak for visits to online shopping sites.


"The other thing that we see happening on Thursday, Thanksgiving Day, is a combination of research, both online and offline, and then normal Internet shopping," he said. "Those combined caused a greater market share of visits on Thanksgiving Day."


In diversity, some unity. However, media reports yesterday claim that some retailers reported a shopping surge on Cyber Monday. But a perusal of Nielsen//NetRatings traffic data shows that it was mostly Internet-only merchants that attracted heavy traffic on that day when compared with multichannel retailers.


For its part, Hitwise claims that Thanksgiving Day was the most popular for visits to leading shopping sites. Black Friday Nov. 25 was next, followed by Saturday Nov. 26, Sunday Nov. 27 and then Cyber Monday. But Cyber Monday this year had a 12.39 percent increase in traffic over last year.


Nielsen//NetRatings, on the other hand, said Cyber Monday at-home and at-work traffic, at 27.7 million, was 15 percent higher than Black Friday's 23.98 million. Traffic on Nov. 26 and Nov. 27 was 21.24 million and 21.66 million, respectively. And Thanksgiving Day itself received 19.99 million unique visitors -- the lowest of the five days tracked and a contrast with Hitwise's results.


Hitwise and Nielsen//NetRatings have different methodologies to gauge traffic to online shopping sites. But a common thread was the presence of multichannel retailers like Wal-Mart, Target, Best Buy and Circuit City on both lists for the past few days. Another similarity was the presence of eBay, Amazon and Walmart.com on both lists, ranking in that order.


By Hitwise's count, eBay was the top site ranked by number of visits on Cyber Monday, accounting for a 19.11 percent share of the shopping and classifieds category. Nielsen//NetRatings' data ranked eBay at the top, with 11.67 million shoppers -- more than double Amazon's 5.58 million.


Amazon was next on Hitwise's list, with a 3.35 percent share, followed by Walmart.com's 2.16 percent share, Target's 1.42 percent, Dell USA's 1.32 percent, BestBuy.com's 1.14 percent, craigslist's 1.09 percent and JC Penney's 0.86 percent.


At numbers nine to 14, with a traffic market share of 0.8 percent to 0.68 percent, were CircuitCity.com, Overstock.com, Netflix, Shopzilla and its BizRate.com property, and Shopping.com. Sears.com, Yahoo Shopping, QVC.com, Home Depot and Froogle, in descending order, accounted for shares ranging from 0.67 percent to 0.37 percent.


Earth's biggest online store offline? What comes loud and clear from the Hitwise listing -- and even Nielsen//NetRatings' tracking -- is the growing pre-eminence of bricks-and-mortar retailers in categories that sell well online -- consumer electronics and computer hardware. A multichannel presence, in-store pick-up, easy returns and free shipping incentives help.


It's only a matter of time before Walmart.com surpasses Amazon for shoppers seeking new products. Proof of that lies in Hitwise data.


"For the first time since we started tracking online shopping sites, Walmart.com surpassed Amazon on Thanksgiving Day in market share of visits," Tancer said. "Shoppers are both researching online and purchasing online. But the fact that Wal-Mart has caught up to Amazon is significant."


Cyber Monday spending surge. Data on e-commerce revenue generated on Cyber Monday are not available yet. But the National Retail Federation -- whose Shop.org unit coined the term "Cyber Monday" -- and its Columbus, OH-based Bigresearch survey partner expected 59 million people to shop online that day.


An indication of how people spent online could be had from Visa USA's SpendTrak report. Consumers on Monday spent about $505 million on e-commerce transactions using Visa branded cards, a 26 percent jump from the same day last year. The previous high for the 2005 holiday season was Nov. 15, when consumers spent nearly $461 million on e-commerce purchases.


When all's said and done, it isn't surprising to see Overstock.com, eBay, Amazon and Dell on the list of most-trafficked sites on Cyber Monday. Promotions, like Overstock.com's $1 flat fee for shipping on all purchases, helped, as did all manner of deep discounts.


"It shows there's a strong interest in online-only players once shoppers headed back to work on Monday," said Heather Dougherty, senior retail analyst at Nielsen//NetRatings, New York. "People were coming back on Monday and comparing what they saw on the weekend in stores."


Mickey Alam Khan covers Internet marketing campaigns and e-commerce, agency news as well as circulation for DM News and DMNews.com. To keep up with the latest developments in these areas, subscribe to our daily and weekly e-mail newsletters by visiting www.dmnews.com/newsletters


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