November 21, 2012, 2:28 PM

Early-bird holiday shoppers hit the web

Online sales in early November jumped 16% over last year, comScore says.

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The pre-holiday weekend shopping numbers are in and they look promising for online retailers. What’s more, one survey predicts more consumers will shop online than in stores this holiday weekend—suggesting many consumers prefer the convenience of at-home shopping to lining up at stores in the early morning hours of Black Friday, the day after Thanksgiving.

Online sales for the first 18 days of November totaled $10 billion, up 16% compared to the same period last year, according to a report released today by comScore Inc. Those numbers bode well for the upcoming holiday break. ComScore, which just last week projected online sales to grow 15% to 18% between Nov. 1 and Dec. 31 this year compared to last, today forecast that sales will hit the higher end of that range, growing 17%. ComScore tracks the online purchasing behavior of 1 million U.S. consumers for its projections.

Swelling seasonal web sales could stem from consumers’ plans to shop in their slippers from their tablets, smartphones or computers rather than fight store traffic—at least this upcoming weekend. 32% of respondents say they'll hit the stores this long weekend, while 34% intend to shop online, according to a telephone survey of 1,557 adults 18 and older from Consumer Reports, a popular publication that provides extensive reviews on a wide range of products. The survey also says 34% will shop online next Monday, often called Cyber Monday, because in recent years many consumers have shopped online from work Monday after perusing store offerings over the weekend.

When it comes to online shopping this holiday season, many will start their searches not at leading search engine Google but at Amazon.com, according to a study by Baird Equity Research.

A pre-holiday survey from the research firm finds that one-third of consumers plan to spend more money online this holiday season than last, and illustrates the growing dominance of Amazon.com Inc. 53% of consumers plan to start online shopping trips on Amazon, versus 36% on Google, according to Baird’s poll of several hundred online shoppers ages 18 and older.  The findings suggest Amazon has gained more ground since last year when Forrester Research Inc. reported that 30% of U.S. web shoppers began their product research on Amazon.com in the third quarter of 2011, up from 18% in the third quarter of 2009. That compares with 13% who began their product research at Google in third quarter of 2011, down from 24% in the same period in 2009.

Baird also forecasts online holiday sales to grow 10% to 15% during the fourth quarter compared to the same period last year—slightly lower than comScore’s revised estimate.

Those shoppers who decide not only to search on Amazon.com for gifts but to buy from the site as well will no longer have the option to sign up for the retailer’s short-lived monthly Amazon Prime shipping program.

This fall, Amazon offered shoppers the option of paying $7.99 a month to receive two-day shipping on purchases along with access to streamed content that includes some 25,000 TV show and films. That would translate into an annual fee of $95.88. Under Prime’s standard pricing, Amazon sells memberships for $79 per year—that translates to about $6.58 per month. Amazon, however, has ended the monthly membership option, calling it a test.

“We regularly test new options for our customers and did test a monthly Prime membership,” an Amazon.com spokeswoman says. “At this time, we are no longer signing up new customers for monthly memberships of Amazon Prime.”

Beyond online sales growth and more consumers heading to Amazon to kick-off their online shopping quests, Baird’s report outlines other holiday shopping trends. Consumers want their goods fast, its poll finds. 80% of those surveyed say they are interested in same-day delivery and 70% are willing to pay $5 to $10 for it.

And mobile shopping activity is growing, particularly while a consumer is in a store, the report also notes. 30% of smartphone users always or frequently compare prices or products in stores using a mobile device, Baird says. And 75% of smartphone users say they are comparison shopping in stores more frequently than a year ago.

Baird says growth in smartphone and tablet shopping will help drive online sales growth over the holidays. Just-released numbers from online marketing firm ChannelAdvisor Corp. support Baird’s theory. Mobile devices accounted for 25.8% of all ChannelAdvisor’s retailer clients’ sales for the first 15 days of November compared with 12.6% during the same period a year ago.

To lure in web shoppers looking to buy, online stores such as LandsEnd.com and Hayneedle.com are decking out their retail sites with special holiday promotions and programs. Lands’ End launched this week nine new gift shops categorized by price and theme. Shops range from Gifts Under $30 and Gifts Under $50 to a Holiday Surprises Shop that sells such items as knitted wine bottle sweaters. A Green Bay Packer-themed shop represents Lands’ End’s home state. Coined the Titletown Collection, the shop sells green and yellow chunky knit scarves, hats and mittens and stadium blankets. Lands’ End is owned by Sear’s Holdings Corp., No. 8 in the Internet Retailer Top 500 Guide.

While Land’s End is looking to attract Cheeseheads, other online retailers are appealing to consumers’ charitable sides. Home goods e-retailer Hayneedle.com, No. 85 in the Guide, just opened online doors to its 2012 Gifts That Give Back holiday collection. For every purchase made from collection, Hayneedle will donate two blankets to be distributed by Children's Home Society of America, a national non-profit that aims to help low-income children and families. Last year, Hayneedle shoppers helped the retailer supply 2,600 blankets to families in need.  

Streetwear e-retailer Karmaloop.com is launching a holiday promotion that’s a tad on the racier side. It’s turning to bondage and sexcams to get the attention of its urban, young adult target market.

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