January 11, 2007, 12:00 AM

Holiday season starts earlier and ends later online, OneUpWeb study finds

Data from PPC campaigns representing more than a million consumers show Halloween is a better marker than Cyber Monday for the start of the holiday shopping season online.

 

The Monday after Thanksgiving, thought of as the kick-off of the online holiday shopping season, doesn’t live up to its hype, according to a holiday trends study that tracked traffic conversions and sales.

The study, just released by online marketing firm OneUpWeb, was based on traffic generated by paid campaigns and represented transactions from more than a million consumers. It found that the day had high traffic and conversion rates, but that it did not mark the beginning of the rising trend of holiday shopping online. In fact, unique visitors followed an overall upward trend beginning the week of Oct. 9-15 and continuing through the week of Dec. 4-10 before dropping off. Conversions started a steady increase the week of Oct. 16-22 and continued increasing until the week of Dec. 11 -17.

“Halloween is a more appropriate marker of the holiday season launch date,” according to OneUp’s study report. “Some retailers may see increased activity or interest in holiday or interest in holiday items earlier in October.”

The data also suggest that the online holiday season not only starts earlier but lasts longer than mid-December when it peaks. Though the week of Dec. 18-24 shows a major drop-off, conversion and sales were still higher at that point than they were for what OneUpWeb’s study set as the base week – the first week of the study period, Sept. 25- Oct. 1. The week after Christmas also showed sales and conversion rates above the base, though traffic returned to pre-season levels, possibly due in part to the online redemption of gift cards.

Though traffic and conversion were high on the Monday after Thanksgiving, the study tracked a pre-Thanksgiving dip in traffic and conversion. Traffic was down 4% from traffic during the base week, and conversion was down 36%. OneUpWeb speculates that a decrease in shopping online while at work, or less time online overall as people travel or prepare for the holiday, may contribute to the drop that week, as could people waiting to shop until holiday sales start.

The study found the biggest sales days online were December 4, 11, and 13, with Dec. 13 having the highest sales and traffic of the season. With Dec. 4 and 11 both Mondays, “This supports the growing belief that consumers are coming away from a disappointing weekend bricks-and-mortar experience and using the office broadband,” concludes the study report.

Among other conclusions, the study identified milestones early in the season that could be used for estimating peak volumes later. A retailer should prepare for four times whatever volume it’s having on Halloween week during peak weeks to come. Retailers should prepare for twice whatever volume it’s having during the two weeks prior to Thanksgiving, during the later peak volume weeks, OneUpWeb advises.

 

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