December 2, 2013, 4:34 PM

Early focus on holiday shopping helps e-retailers

And not all them needed free shipping, either.

Lead Photo

This won’t be a popular suggestion, but some e-retailers who have enjoyed watching their revenue balloon since Thursday might want to send a thank-you card and maybe some nice tulips to Wal-Mart Stores Inc. and other big retail chains.

Say what you will about the decency of keeping stores open on Thanksgiving or bombarding consumers who had yet to hide away their Halloween costumes with Black Friday and Christmas marketing messages—those chains have not only trained shoppers to seek out deals earlier than ever, but have forced the rest of the e-commerce pack to up their game.

And that paid off during the long shopping weekend.

“This year Wal-Mart went ahead and launched Black Friday on Thanksgiving in physical stores, which forced online retailers to do pre-Black Friday sales,” says Adrian Salamunovic, co-founder of CanvasPop, which produces and sells via its e-commerce site photos printed onto canvas.

Indeed, Wal-Mart, No. 4 in the Internet Retailer Top 500 Guide, early in November launched what it called its earliest “Holiday Cyber Event Ever” with online savings typically reserved for Black Friday (the day after Thanksgiving) and Cyber Monday (that would be today, for those who’ve just recently given up shopping exclusively by Sears catalog).

“We did 10 days of deals prior to Black Friday,” Salamunovic, “which worked out well.”

A look at some of the numbers and experiences from various online retailers gives a more pointed and specific view of the early holiday shopping period than offered by comScore Inc., IBM and others that released aggregated holiday data:

• CanvasPop posted 300% year-over-year revenue growth on Thanksgiving and nearly that much on Black Friday. And today promised to be “crazy” as well, with more than 300% growth thanks to the retailer earning mention today during a gift-ideas segment on the “Good Morning America” news program, Salamunovic says. The retailer is doing it all without the benefit of free shipping, instead offering a $14 flat fee. “It didn’t affect conversions at all,” he says.

• FatBrain Toys, No. 472 in the Internet Retailer Top 500 Guide, this year for the first time offered flat-rate shipping, but without a minimum order requirement, says president and co-founder Mark Carson. As a result, average order values are down slightly from last year. “However, that has also resulted in a nice uptick in conversions,” he adds.

• Average order values increased 42% year over year from Thanksgiving through Sunday for  Marbles: The Brain Store, with traffic up 79% and revenue increasing 209%, according to marketing director Hallie Steube. The gains come from the retailer sending out its first direct mail holiday catalog, trying to rely more on exclusive product offerings and customer service than promotions, and paid search adds, often referred to as CPC, for “cost per click.”. “We’ve grown our Google CPC and have seen a big lift in Google Product Listing and display [ads], driving 230% more in overall channel revenue than last year,” she says. Google Product Listing Ads are paid comparison shopping ads introduced last year. “We’ve also seen a big lift in our e-mail conversions as we’ve grown our subscriber database over the last year.”

• Web-only merchant Newegg.com—like Wal-Mart, Newegg’s holiday promotion blitz began in early November—was among the retailers relying on an onslaught of deals and promotions. For Black Friday, the e-retailer offered 4,300 deals, with another 3,330 today, Cyber Monday, says chief marketing officer Soren Mills. Sales jumped 28% on Black Friday. Such deals likely attracted new shoppers. Newegg had “over double-digit growth in new customers year over year in the last week,” Mills says. “We do [typically] get new customers now, but I think we’re seeing even more now than in the past.”

IBM this afternoon reported that Cyber Monday sales had increased 18.7% year over year as of 3 p.m. Eastern. Mobile was playing another strong role during shopping today, with 30% of online traffic coming from smartphones and tablets, and mobile sales accounting for about 16.5% of all online sales.

Social media, too, was stepping up for retailers, with Pinterest vying with Facebook, IBM says. Shoppers referred from Facebook were spending an average of $99.60 per order, compared with $95.30 for Pinterest referrals. “Facebook referrals converted sales at the same rate as Pinterest referrals,” IBM says.

Cyber Monday appeared destined to carry on the sales success of the larger holiday weekend for online marketplace Rakuten.com Shopping. The gross value of merchandise sold on the online marketplace was showing an increase of about 80% since Thursday when compared to the same shopping period in 2012, says Bernard Luthi, chief operating officer. Part of the credit goes toward offering larger rewards through the e-commerce operator’s loyalty program, he says, and more shoppers seeking out popular toys online rather than trying to fight the crowds at stores.

As Cyber Monday sped toward its conclusion—or, at least the point where many consumers would have to shop from their personal devices instead of work computers—some retailers were trying to squeeze what they could from the day and the spirit of online spending. Among them was Nebraska Furniture Mart, No. 377 in the Top 500. An e-mail marketing message received after 3 p.m. Eastern today proclaimed that Cyber Monday deals had been extended with new product deals, and reminded consumers that purchases of $49 or more qualify for free shipping.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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