November 25, 2008, 12:00 AM

Online spending falls in the 3 weeks before Thanksgiving, comScore reports

Online sales in the first three weeks of November are down 4% compared to the same period last year, comScore Inc. reports. Sales totaled $8.19 billion from Nov. 1 to 23 vs. $8.51 billion in the same period a year ago.

Cratering consumer spending is catching up with the Internet. Online sales in the first three weeks of November are down 4% compared to the same period last year, comScore Inc. reports.

Sales totaled $8.19 billion from Nov. 1 to 23 vs. $8.51 billion in the same period a year ago. ComScore bases its comparison on equivalent shopping days prior to Thanksgiving, that is, Oct. 27 to Nov. 18, 2007.

ComScore also reports that its weekly survey of 500 consumers, which it conducted between last Friday (Nov. 21) and Monday (Nov. 24), shows that 33% of consumers have not even started their holiday shopping.

ComScore is now projecting no growth in online sales for the fourth quarter compared to last year.

“Despite the recent reprieve that plummeting gas prices have given American consumers, the depressed and volatile stock market, declining housing prices, inflation and the weak job market all represent dark clouds hanging over their heads this holiday shopping season,” says comScore chairman Gian Fulgoni. “With consumer confidence low and disposable income tight, the first weeks of November have been very disappointing, with online retail spending declining versus a year ago. It’s also likely that some budget-conscious consumers are planning to wait to buy until later in the season to take advantage of retailers’ even more aggressive discounting.”

By comparison, ShopperTrak RCT Corp.`s National Retail Sales Estimate reports that store sales for Nov. 1 to 15 were down 3.7% compared to last year. ShopperTrak is predicting a 10% decline in foot traffic to retail locations this holiday season and no spending growth.

Online sales grew in the first nine months of the year by 9% compared to a year earlier, reaching $102.1 billion from $93.6 billion.

“Assuming the stock market doesn’t deteriorate materially during the season and that there is no apocalyptic news of major financial institutions, manufacturers or retailers failing, we should see online spending growth inch back towards positive as we get deeper into the season,” added Fulgoni. “However, if there is any more significant bad news just over the horizon, all bets are off.”

In addition to asking if they had started their holiday shopping, comScore asked consumers in its panel: What, if anything, are you doing to cut costs of holiday shopping?
General shopping • Buying fewer gifts, 47 %
• Buying less expensive gifts, 46 %
• Using coupons I receive from my newspaper or via mail, 37 %
• Spending more time searching for deals in stores, 32 %
• Shopping early in the season to take advantage of sales and or discounts, 22 %
• Shopping later in the season to take advantage of price reductions, 19%
Online shopping
• Shopping online to take advantage of free shipping, no tax, etc., 39 %
• Spending more time researching deals online, 37 %
• Using online coupons or coupons I receive via e-mail, 31 %
• Using comparison shopping engines to find the best deals, 25 %
• Shopping online auction sites, 21 %
• Shopping online classifieds, 8 %
• Using deal of the day sites, 8%

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