November 29, 2004, 12:00 AM

The new Thanksgiving Day tradition: online shopping

Shopping and classified web sites got 11.39% of all web traffic on Thanksgiving Day, breaking the 2003 high of 8.96% set last year. It was the first time since Hitwise has conducted tracking that visits to retail sites exceeded 10% of all web traffic.

The turkey is the animal name most often associated with Thanksgiving, but for retailers, this year it could be a mouse. Consumers logged on to retail and classified sites in record numbers on Thanksgiving Day, according to web traffic monitoring service Hitwise, outstripping retail web traffic on the day that followed, Black Friday, which is traditionally the biggest shopping day offline.

According to Hitwise, shopping and classified web sites received 11.39% of all web traffic on Thanksgiving Day, breaking the 2003 high of 8.96% set on Thanksgiving Day in 2003. On Friday, Nov. 26, retail and classified sites claimed 11.03% of all web traffic. It was the first time since Hitwise has conducted tracking that visits to retail sites exceeded 10% of all web traffic.

Among the categories of shopping sites with the greatest increase in site visits on Thanksgiving Day vs. Black Friday were appliances and electronics, up 20%; and computer retailers, up 18%. “The dichotomy of visits to retail sites suggests that consumers are researching higher-ticket items such as computers and electronics on Thanksgiving before heading to stores on Friday," says Bill Tancer, vice president of research at Hitwise. "Conversely, non-tech items like home goods, books and beauty continue to dominate online shopping traffic on Black Friday.”

But consumers did buy as well as look online on Thanksgiving Day. ComScore Networks reports that shoppers spent $133 million online that day, a 100% increase from the $67 million spent online on Thanksgiving Day 2003. Online retail sales during the five days ending Friday, Nov. 26, were up 35% over last year to $1.23 billion, ComScore reports. On Nov. 26, alone, consumers spent $250 million online, up 41% from $178 million last year. Overall, comScore expects online retail spending will exceed $15 billion during the November/December holiday shopping season. That’s an increase of $23% to 26%, compared to the same period last year.

Though online sales were up sharply, they are still far exceeded by offline holiday retail spending. The National Retail Federation reports that shoppers spent $22.8 billion over the Thanksgiving weekend, about 10% of the $220 billion it forecast in total holiday sales this year. NRF estimates that 133 million consumers shopped in stores over the weekend, but online retail got its share, with nearly one in three consumers, 29.3%, doing some of their holiday shopping over the Internet.

While the Thanksgiving weekend kicks off the official start to holiday shopping, there’s much more to come. According to NRF, as of Sunday, the average person had completed 36.8% of holiday shopping, and only 8.3% of consumers had completed their shopping.

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