November 23, 2004, 12:00 AM

Holiday e-shopping is already 2 weeks under way, Nielsen and Hitwise report

Nielsen/NetRatings reports that visits to shopping sites increased 60% the week ending Nov. 14 over the prior week. Hitwise says shopping sites accounted for 9.27% of all Internet visits last Saturday, up from 8.37% and 8.02% for the previous two weeks.

Online holiday shopping officially got under way two weeks ago, Nielsen/NetRatings reports. Nielsen/NetRatings’s Holiday eShopping Index reports that visits to shopping sites increased 60% the week ending Nov. 14 over the prior week. Home/garden sites led the growth with an 88% jump in visits over the week before. Visits to books/music/video sites were up 87%; toys/video games sites were up 75%. Visits to apparel sites were up 75%.

Among the standouts in visitor increases were HomeDepot.com, up 159%; PotteryBarn.com, up 97%; BarnesandNoble.com, up 233%; Be Music, up 67%; KBtoys.com, up 276%; EBGames.com, up 210%. Visits to Gap.com were up 245% over the week before and visits to LandsEnd.com were up 68%.

Shopping comparison sites/portals also proved popular, up 73% from the week before with Yahoo Shopping up 174% and MySimon up 133%.

The Nielsen/NetRatings Holiday eShopping Index is made up of 10 representative sites across 10 categories.

“Shopping/comparison portals such as Froogle and NexTag should see major increases in online shopping visits this holiday season, as consumers educate themselves on merchandise and search for the best price,” said Nielsen/NetRatings retail analyst Heather Dougherty. “This should have a noticeable impact offline, as the 2004 holiday shopper becomes a more informed buyer.”

In addition, shopping sites accounted for 9.27% of all Internet visits last Saturday, up from 8.37% and 8.02% for the previous two weeks, reports Hitwise. The proportion is far above last year’s record high of 7.84% of all visits that occurred on Dec. 13 last year.

“Online shopping appears to be occurring earlier and in greater force than last year,” says Bill Tancer, Hitwise vice president of research. “If last year is any indication, we’re likely to see weekly shopping levels increase with a peak roughly a week before Christmas.”

Hitwise also reports that visits to the 13 leading comparison-shopping sites increased 22% for the week ending Nov. 20 vs. the same week a year ago.

“This year’s dramatic increase in the use of comparison shopping sites marks a new era in online shopping,” Tancer says. “Users are becoming more sophisticated in their online purchase behaviors, clearly demonstrating the willingness to use comparison shopping sites to find the best product at the best price.”

The most visited comparison-shopping sites last week were Yahoo Shopping, Bizrate.com and Shopping.com; they claimed 30.9%, 18.3% and 15.9%, respectively, of all visits to the 13 leading sites. The three fastest growing comparison-shopping sites last week vs. a year ago were: Calibex.com, up 2,221%; Froogle.com, up 270%; and Shopping.com, up 235%.

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