November 22, 2012, 12:01 PM

E-commerce sales rise 17.4% on Thanksgiving Day

The holiday was also "a break-out day" for mobile devices, IBM reports.

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With many major retailers making their Black Friday deals available online yesterday, consumers rose early on Thanksgiving Day to begin their holiday shopping and kept on buying. By the time the clock struck midnight on the West Coast, e-retail sales were up 17.4% over Thanksgiving Day 2011, IBM reports.

IBM called it "a break-out day" for mobile devices and noted a surge in post-Thanksgiving dinner shopping on iPads. "In the evening hours, consumers shifted from shopping through their smartphones at the dinner table to buying through their iPad on the couch," IBM noted in summarizing the day's e-retail sales. "At the end of the day the iPad drove more retail traffic than any other device with traffic reaching 10.7% versus the iPhone at 9.1% and Android at 5.8%."

25.3% of traffic to retail sites came from smartphones and tablets, up 66.2% from Thanksgiving Day last year, and mobile devices accounted for 18.3% of purchases, up 65.3%.

For most of the day, only 0.2% of consumers who bought from online retailers came from such social networks as Facebook and Twitter,  but that increased in the evening and social networks ended up accounting for 0.63% of sales, IBM says.

The importance of mobile devices also showed up in responses to retailers' e-mails, as the percentage of e-mail opened on phones and tablets increased 23% over last year's holiday, IBM says.

Visits to retail web sites also broke records, with Akamai Technologies Inc. reporting a peak of 7.63 million page views per minute from North American consumers to the web sites of its retail clients at 8:55 p.m. Eastern Time on Thanksgiving Day. That smashed the record of 5.35 million page views per minute Akamai recorded on Monday and suggests consumers were not only visiting retail sites to buy but also to scope out deals stores will be offering in the early morning hours tomorrow, says Lelah Manz, Akamai's chief strategist for commerce. After an overnight trough, traffic to retail sites was back to a robust 5.52 million page views per minute at 8:15 a.m. Eastern on Friday.

Shopping began early on Thanksgiving Day, according to data on traffic to retail sites from Akamai, which operates a global network of servers designed to make web pages load faster. North American consumers were viewing about 1.4 million retail web site pages per minute around 4 a.m. Eastern Time, the low for the day, but that activity began to take off around 7 a.m., reaching a morning peak of 4.96 million page views at 10:40 a.m. Eastern, the second-highest peak in 2012 at that time, based on the client retailer sites Akamai tracks.

That traffic tapered off during the afternoon hours as consumers prepared Thanksgiving dinners and set off to family gatherings, but Akamai predicted it would pick up again later. By 6 p.m. Eastern, traffic had hit 5.5 million page views per minute and kept climbing as the evening wore on.

A surprising amount of the sales generated on retail sites yesterday came from paid search ads, up 22.6% as of 2 p.m. Eastern from same-store sales sparked from such ads on Thanksgiving Day 2011 for clients of online marketing firm ChannelAdvisor Corp. That's a dramatic turnaround from a 10.2% decline from Nov. 1-19 in same-store sales driven by paid search for ChannelAdvisor clients.

That's likely a result of retailers moving up their paid search advertising earlier in the holiday weekend, to promote Thanksgiving Day sales as well as sales today, or Black Friday, says ChannelAdvisor CEO Scot Wingo. "Looking at the data, we are seeing retailers VERY heavily promoting their early Black Friday (also known as Thanksgiving) deals and offers," Wingo wrote on his blog today. "That seems to have moved a very large amount of search spend onto Thanksgiving day that wasn't usually happening in past years."

ChannelAdvisor, which assists retailers in selling on marketplaces like Amazon.com and eBay.com as well as through comparison shopping sites, also reported same-store sales for its clients on Amazon were up 28.5% over the same period on Thanksgiving Day last year, and on eBay up an even stronger 36.4%. Sales through comparison shopping engines were down 3.8%.

Many retailers encouraged this Thanksgiving Day online shopping by making available specials on their web sites yesterday that they will be offering in their stores Friday, a day often called Black Friday because the rush to begin holiday shopping helps put retailers’ finances into the black. Among the major retailers featuring Black Friday specials on their home pages Thanksgiving Day were Amazon.com, Walmart.com, JCPenney.com, Target.com and Macys.com.

The early availability of Black Friday sales online that Wingo noted is one of three trends that showed up in pre-Thanksgiving e-mails from major retailers, observed Chad White, research director of e-mail service provider Responsys, on his Retail Email Blog. The other two are the prevalence of free shipping offers and retailers inviting consumers to shop via their mobile devices.

Both those trends were apparent on the home pages of major retailers yesterday. For example, J.C. Penney’s web site trumpeted free shipping with no minimum purchase and no discount code required. The central image on Macys.com declared: “Shop Black Friday specials on your phone or tablet!”

Amazon is No. 1 in the Internet Retailer Top 500 Guide, Walmart.com No. 4, Macy's No. 14, J.C. Penney No. 20 and Target No. 23.

Note to readers: Internet Retailer’s editors will be providing reports on Thanksgiving weekend sales from Thanksgiving Day through Sunday. Check back for the latest news.

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