Retailers Finally Give Amazon, Other Pure Plays a Run for Their Money Online

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So what should online retailers make of this Thanksgiving weekend and the Monday after?


Hype aside, those five days matter to holiday shoppers for referencing or actual purchasing online or offline. And retail brands like Wal-Mart, Best Buy, Circuit City and Target are giving Internet-only retailers like eBay and Amazon a run for their money.


"Based on the sales and traffic data for the Thanksgiving weekend announced by various measurement companies, online retailers are off to a strong start to the holiday season," said Scott Silverman, executive director of the National Retail Federation's Shop.org division in Washington.


Retailers should take comfort from market researcher comScore Networks' estimate that $1.41 billion was spent Nov. 24-28 on non-travel e-commerce, almost one-third of it on Monday.


Yes, disputes have arisen over online traffic numbers. Internet monitoring service Hitwise, New York, said the Monday after Thanksgiving received less at-home and at-work online visitor traffic than any of the four preceding days.


In fact, online traffic to key shopping and classifieds sites dropped as the holiday weekend progressed, Hitwise said. Monday Nov. 28, against all expectations, had the lowest numbers, though compared with the same day last year, traffic was up 12.39 percent.


On the other hand, market researcher Nielsen//NetRatings, New York, said traffic Nov. 28 was the highest of the five days since Thanksgiving. An estimated 27.7 million unique visitors shopped the leading e-commerce sites from work and home, 15 percent higher than Black Friday Nov. 25's 23.98 million.


Nielsen//NetRatings' data also show that unique visitor traffic on Saturday Nov. 26 and Sunday Nov. 27 was 21.24 million and 21.66 million. As for Thanksgiving Day itself, it received 19.99 million unique visitors -- the lowest of the five days tracked and a sharp contrast from Hitwise's data.


Wal-Mart rising. As is the case with research from competing firms, different measurement methodologies account for the disparate interpretations and conclusions of data. But even amid the differences, Hitwise and Nielsen//NetRatings revealed a common thread.


For example, e-commerce sites belonging to retailers like Wal-Mart, Target, Best Buy and Circuit City appeared on both lists tracking the Nov. 24-28 period. Also, both firms ranked eBay, Amazon and Walmart.com as the top three shopped sites on those days.


The data make this clear: Wal-Mart's offline clout is impressing online shoppers. The Bentonville, AR-based retailer actively promotes its site across all media, pushing discounts, products and its stores.


Forecasting is an unpredictable business. But it's only a matter of time before Walmart.com unseats Amazon as the No. 1 online retailer for new products. The proof is in the data trends.


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


The growing purchases of consumer electronics and computer hardware online certainly benefit deep-discounting retail chains like Wal-Mart, Target, Best Buy and Circuit City.


Conversely, consumers who browsed online or offline at these major discounters and specialty retail chains flocked to Internet-only retailers after the Thanksgiving weekend. Promotions like Overstock's $1 fee for shipping helped, as did all manner of 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. "People were coming back on Monday and comparing what they saw on the weekend in stores."


Monday: Cyber or Black? Janet McCabe, senior director of comScore Networks, Chicago, said the 26 percent e-commerce sales growth on Nov. 28 outpaced her company's 24 percent projection for the holiday season. So the day does matter to the online retail calendar.


"But to put it in perspective, 'Black Monday' was the 12th-highest spending day in 2004," McCabe said. "Undoubtedly, sales will continue to rise with the peak day occurring in mid-December as consumers wait for late-season deals and place orders in time for gifts to be delivered before the holidays."


On a less significant note was the fallout on the naming rights for the Monday after Thanksgiving. NRF's Shop.org this year called it "Cyber Monday" while comScore preferred "Black Monday." Either way, both want to make that day the online equivalent to Black Friday, the day after Thanksgiving when store-based retail operations are said to become profitable.


"We gave the day the 'Cyber Monday' moniker and described it as the kickoff of the online holiday season," Silverman said. "The name and the description of the day as the kickoff to the holiday season resonated with the nation's media and generated some excitement about online shopping."


ComScore claims to have coined "Black Monday" three years ago. The tussle over "Cyber" and "Black" doesn't faze McCabe.


"I would just say it's semantics," McCabe said.


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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