November 20, 2007, 12:00 AM

Online use increases even when holiday shopping shifts offline

The second Monday before Christmas has emerged as the peak point for online sales over the past two years, but the largest increases in web usage and the highest consumption of online ads occur as holiday shopping shifts offline.

The second Monday before Christmas has emerged as the peak point for online sales over the past two years, but the largest increases in web usage and the highest consumption of online ads occur as holiday shopping shifts offline, according to Atlas Institute’s Seventh Annual Holiday Online Shopping Report.

Although online sales fall after the peak day, the second Monday before Christmas, “our study reveals that the web continues to fuel offline holiday sales,” says Young-Bean Song, vice president of analytics at the Atlas Institute.

The number of consumers online grows by 10% during the offline rush as people gather information about pending purchases that are eventually made in stores, according to the report. During last year’s offline rush between the peak online spending day and Christmas Day, the rate of online ad consumption increased 18%.

The report suggests that advertisers adjust their messages to reflect the mental shift in purchasing decisions that occurs during the offline rush, for example, highlighting the availability of in-store pickup, offering guaranteed delivery dates or promoting last-minute deals on gifts.

“There is a significant opportunity for online advertisers to increase their sales during this time frame by altering their messages and the time frame in which they are delivered,” Song says.

Mondays and Tuesdays continue to be the busiest online shopping days during the holiday season, with prime online transaction hours between noon and 4 p.m. Eastern time, according to the report.

“For the past seven years, we’ve seen the continued integration between online and offline buying behavior,” Song says. “The role online advertising has on offline sales is never more obvious than during the offline rush.”

The Atlas Institute is the research and education arm of Microsoft Corp.’s Advertiser and Publisher Solutions Group, which was established in August to manage Microsoft’s online advertising initiatives. For this year’s report, the institute analyzed transaction data from Nov. 20, 2006, through Jan. 31, 2007. The data represents 670 billion impressions and 193 million actions across more than 180 companies whose online campaigns are managed using the Atlas Digital Marketing Suite.

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