January 2, 2014, 12:23 PM

Online sales rise 10.3% year over year in Q4

Mobile sales growth led the way this holiday season, with sales from smartphones and tablets up 46% year over year and accounting for 16.6% of digital sales in Q4, IBM says in an analysis of 800 e-commerce sites. Department stores garnered the largest year-over-year sales increases—62.8%—in the quarter.

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Bolstered by another season of record-breaking holidays, online retail sales in the fourth quarter of 2013 were up by 10.3% year over year, according to IBM Corp.’s final Digital Analytics Benchmark report for the year. Department stores registered the biggest gains in October, November and December, with online sales up 62.8%. That compares to a 46.4% increase for home goods retailers, 14.7% for health and beauty and 10.2% for apparel, IBM says.

IBM tracks about 800 e-commerce sites in the United States to compile its benchmark report. The company only breaks out sales increases for those four categories.

IBM did not immediately respond to a request for comment about what led to the outsized increase in online department store sales.

The company does not break out online sales data by month, and thus did not provide data for the core holiday selling months of November and December. It did provide this list of several days in which holiday shopping produced big year-over-year increases: Thanksgiving, sales up 19.7% year over year; Black Friday, up 19%; and Cyber Monday, up 20.6%.

Mobile became an even bigger driver of retail web traffic and sales this past holiday season compared with last year. In the fourth quarter 2013, smartphones and tablets accounted for almost 35% of online traffic, up 40% from Q4 2012, and 16.6% of online sales, up 46% year over year, the benchmark says. Of that, smartphones drove almost double the traffic of tablets, 21.3% compared with 12.8%, but a much smaller percentage of the sales—5% compared with 11.5% for tablets. Tablet shoppers also spent more, with an average order value of $118.09 versus $104.72 for smartphone shoppers, IBM says.

By operating system, the benchmark reveals that mobile devices running on Apple Inc.’s iOS generated more sales in Q4 than did smartphones or tablets running on Google Inc.’s Android software. Shoppers on iPhones and iPads accounted for 22.1% of total web traffic and 12.7% of total online sales, and they spent $115.42 on average per order in Q4, IBM says. Android shoppers accounted for 10.6% of total web traffic and just 2.6% of total online sales, with an average order value of $83.56.

The Digital Analytics Benchmark also measured the online sales that social networks Facebook and Pinterest generated in the fourth quarter. Although Pinterest-referred shoppers purchased more on average than those coming from Facebook—$109.93 versus $60.48—Facebook converted shoppers more than 3.5 times as frequently as Pinterest, the report says. IBM speculates that shoppers may be more confident in referrals from Facebook, the more established social network, and thus more likely to buy after following links from it.

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