November 28, 2011, 5:03 PM

Dishes done, America shopped over the holiday weekend

More than half of e-retail purchases stemming from paid search ads occurred after 6 p.m.

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Online shoppers, at least those driven to retail sites by paid search ads, mainly purchased in the evening hours over the Thanksgiving holiday weekend, according to data from search marketing firm NetElixir.

25.1% of all sales from paid search ads over the four-day period occurred from 6 p.m. to midnight Friday alone, according to NetElixir Inc., which since September 2008 has tracked the holiday results of 32 retailers that have been its clients throughout that period. There were also big spikes in the 6 p.m. to midnight periods on Sunday, accounting for 13.9% of weekend sales from paid search, and on Thanksgiving night, 9.7%. Across the four days, the period from 6 p.m. to midnight accounted for 52% of holiday weekend sales from paid search ads, NetElixir says.

Friday was the biggest online shopping day, accounting for 45% of sales from paid search ads. But click-throughs were more evenly distributed. There was lots of clicking on Thanksgiving Day—which accounted for 25.3% of the paid search ad clicks over the four-day period—as consumers checked out retailers’ heavily hyped ads for the next day, widely referred to as Black Friday.

“Search behavior precedes buying behavior,” says Udayan Bose, NetElixir founder and CEO. “A lot of comparison shopping happens before Black Friday.”

The NetElixir study also shows that advertisers were paying more for paid search ads over the weekend—about 50% more on Google and 25% more on Bing—than last year for a comparable search positions.

Search marketing firm Kenshoo also reports cost per click on paid search ads increased, going up 25% over last year for its clients on Black Friday. Total search advertising spend for Kenshoo clients increased 48% year over year on Black Friday, and revenue driven from search advertising increased 29%. But the higher cost per click resulted in return on ad spending decreasing 13% on Friday, says Kenshoo, which compared clients it served both this year and in 2010.

“So far this holiday season, retailers are seeing more sales volume but less efficiency with their search ad budgets,” says Aaron Goldman, chief marketing officer for Kenshoo. “Competition in search advertising reached record levels on Black Friday this year with increases in retail budgets driving up cost per click rates. Thankfully, consumers were not only clicking but also buying with online purchase activity ramping up the week of the holiday and spiking on Thanksgiving Day itself before reaching all-time highs on Black Friday. Overall for the week, though, return on ad spend for retailers was down compared to 2010 as the lifts in revenue did not outweigh the lifts in ad spend on a percentage basis.”

Meanwhile, a third online marketing firm, IgnitionOne, reports a 63% increase in same-seller revenue from paid search ads on Friday, and 46.2% increase in the number of transactions. The firms’ clients increased their paid search ad spend 25.8% and registered a 12.8% increase in conversion rate and an 11.5% increase in average order value, IgnitionOne says.

In preparing its study, NetElixir divided each of the four days of the holiday period into six-hour periods, then tracked revenue from paid search ads, clicks on those ads and cost per click. Cost per click was lowest on Friday because so many consumers were shopping and following links from paid search ads to retailers’ pages. The cost per click was highest on Saturday—60% higher than the same Saturday last year—because it was the slowest shopping day of the weekend.

Only 15% of purchases from search ads came on Saturday, less than the 16% on Thanksgiving Day. “This is the first time Thanksgiving Day has beaten Saturday” since NetElixir began tracking holiday sales in 2008, Bose says. He says this shows that heavy advertising is shifting consumer spending earlier in the holiday weekend.

Here is how the four days of the Thanksgiving holiday weekend compared in terms of the percentage of revenue from paid search ads and click-throughs for the four-day period, according to NetElixir:

  • Thursday: 16.0%, 25.3%
  • Friday: 45.0%, 34.6%
  • Saturday: 15.0%, 18.7%
  • Sunday: 24.1%, 21.5%

The numbers do not add up to 100.0% because of rounding.

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