January 30, 2009, 12:00 AM

Holiday sales wind up a mixed bag

In mixed results during the 2008 holiday shopping season, some retail categories did better than others. Although online sales performed better than store sales, online holiday sales were lower than the prior year. Still, online sales rose from November to December, indicating that consumers responded to online deals late in the shopping season.

In mixed results during the 2008 holiday shopping season, some retail categories did better than others online. Among the strongest were sporting goods, home goods, apparel, department stores and jewelry, with respective visitor-to-sales conversion rate increases of 66%, 46%, 33%, 33% and 32%, according to Coremetrics, a provider of web analytics data.

That kind of cross-category performance boded well, for example, for Macy’s Inc.’s Macys.com, which falls into all of those categories except sporting goods and reported a 39.1% year-over-year rise in December 2008 sales.

For the entire November-December holiday season, Macys.com’s sales rose 26% over the year-ago period, while same-store sales fell 7.5%. Same-store sales are from operations open at least a year, though because Macy’s includes web sales as part of same-store figures, its year-over-year physical store sales declined slightly more than 7.5%.

The National Retail Federation, the industry organization for store chains, reported that total retail store sales for November-December 2008 declined 2.8% from the same period of 2007.

The downside

Not all holiday season e-commerce data, however, was positive. The number of online purchases in December 2008 fell 2.4% overall compared with December 2007, according to Coremetrics, which based its data on results from more than 300 U.S. retailers.

It also found that, during the 2008 holiday season, the average number of items per order and the average order value fell 19% and 11%, respectively, from November to December.

On a brighter note, the number of online purchases in the 2008 season rose 23% from November to December.

“These numbers reflect continuing consumer nervousness in the face of a tough economy,” says Coremetrics chief strategy officer John Squire. “We saw more people shopping online, not just because it’s tremendously convenient, but because savvy retailers offered huge incentives like free shipping until very late in the holiday retail season.”

A similar late-season surge occurred in the U.K., where December 2008 online sales rose 30% year-over-year, up from a 9.5% rise in November, according to the British Retail Consortium.

“The sharp contrast between December’s strong non-store sales growth and the previous month indicates customers are increasingly confident with leaving Internet shopping until nearer Christmas,” says Sharon Hardiman, head of non-store retailing at the consortium.


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