November 25, 2012, 5:07 PM

Holiday web sales soar, while store sales are flat

E-retail sales jumped 29.3% for Thanksgiving Day and Black Friday.

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Black Friday bled into Thanksgiving Day this year, as retailers competed for consumers’ holiday shopping dollars by offering Friday-after-Thanksgiving specials online on Thursday and many retail chains opened their stores on Thanksgiving night. But two reports released today make clear that e-commerce emerged as the winner on those two shopping days, making big gains while store sales were virtually unchanged from a year ago.

In-store sales actually decreased 0.18% for Thanksgiving Day and Friday—the day often referred to as Black Friday because of its boost to retailers’ profits—compared to the same two days in 2011, payment processor Chase Paymentech reported today, based on sales of its retailer clients. The number of transactions increased 0.15% but the average ticket in stores declined 0.33%, Chase reports.

But it was a very different story online. For Thursday and Friday combined e-retail sales increased 29.3% to $1.675 billion from $1.295 billion, reports comScore, which tracks the actual buying behavior of some 1 million online consumers in the U.S.

“Despite the frenzy of media coverage surrounding the importance of Black Friday in the brick-and-mortar world, we continue to see this shopping day become more and more prominent in the e-commerce channel—particularly among those who prefer to avoid crowds at the stores,” says comScore chairman, Gian Fulgoni, in commenting on the results. Thanksgiving Day online sales increased 32% to $633 million and Black Friday sales rose 26% to $1.042 billion, the first time e-retail sales eclipsed $1 billion on the day after Thanksgiving, comScore says.

And the busiest online shopping day is likely to be tomorrow, Fulgoni predicts. “With Thanksgiving now behind us and most consumers returning to work tomorrow, we can look forward with anticipation to Cyber Monday, which according to norms we’ve observed over the past three years should be the heaviest online shopping day of the season with sales approaching $1.5 billion or even higher.”

The Monday after Thanksgiving has been dubbed Cyber Monday because as online shopping became common many consumers would shop at work that day after scouring stores over Thanksgiving weekend. With broadband Internet access now a fixture in most U.S. homes the motivation to use the office’s high-speed Internet access may be gone, but retailers are continuing to promote sales on the Monday after Thanksgiving. And, just as many Black Friday sales started on Thursday, this year many Cyber Monday deals began today.

At 7:00 this morning Macy's Inc. began offering online Cyber Monday deals that will last through the end of tomorrow. Other retailers also jumping the calendar with Cyber Monday deals, starting them at various hours today, include Toys 'R' Us Inc., Sears Holdings Corp., Kmart, Target Corp. and dELiA*s Inc.

“We know our customers are looking for amazing deals this holiday season and Cyber Monday has become one of the most popular days to shop online,” says Jeff Kantor, chairman of Macy's.com.

More than 129 million consumers will shop online tomorrow, up from 122 million on Cyber Monday last year, the National Retail Federation reports. While Black Friday was the biggest online shopping day between 2003 and 2010, Cyber Monday overtook it last year and hasn't lost its lead, the NRF adds.

"It's becoming more of a tradition," says Matthew Shay, the federation's president and CEO.

Altogether, the extended holiday shopping weekend from Thursday through Monday will generate $59.1 billion in retail sales this year, up 12.8% from $52.4 billion last year, the NRF says, and for the first time this year, more than half of those holiday shoppers, 52%, say they will do at least some of their shopping online, compared with 48% last year. About 20% of overall sales will come from e-commerce, the NRF says, with the average consumer spending $172 online this year, up 14% from $150 in 2011.

Additionally, 62% of consumers say they expect to find the best holiday deals tomorrow, according to online deals aggregation site FatWallet.com, which surveyed 600 online shoppers across the country about their Cyber Monday shopping plans. While 54% of respondents say they plan to spend the same amount on Cyber Monday as last year, 33% say they will spend more. The most popular deals they seek are on clothing, say 70% of respondents, followed by toys, 50%, and appliances, 34% (consumers could select more than one response).

This year FairWinds Partners, a domain name strategy consultancy, named Target and Vistaprint NV Cyber Monday Champions among the top 50 retailers in the Internet Retailer Top 500 Guide. They not only increased site traffic significantly between October and November, but also owned the most frequently misspelled domain names for their sites, allowing them to capture much additional web traffic that may otherwise have been lost or misdirected, the firm says.

"Cyber Monday is a critical day of the year for e-commerce sites, and it's crucial to own typos of your domain name in order to maximize traffic and potential revenue," says Liz Sweezey, vice president of consulting services at FairWinds.

As of midday today, the number of page views per minute on North American retail sites was 113% above average, according Akamai Technologies Inc., which operates a global network of servers designed to make web pages load faster. Page views peaked at about five million per minute at 1:00 p.m. Eastern among its retail clients, compared with a peak of about 7.53 million views per minute at 10:20 a.m. on Black Friday, Akamai says.

The five retailers with the most visited web sites on Black Friday, in order, were Amazon.com Inc., Walmart.com, Best Buy Co., Target Corp. and J.C. Penney Co. Inc., according to Experian Marketing Services, which tracks the web traffic of the top 500 Internet retailers. J.C. Penney, which came in eighth last year, grew traffic the most on Friday, by 26% year-over-year, Experian says.

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