With roads covered by a heavy snowfall, many East Coast consumers turned to the web for last-minute shopping, suggest data from several e-retailers and technology providers. Marketing messages geared to the big storm appear to have led to sales.
Zak Stambor , Managing Editor
With roads to stores and malls covered by a heavy snowfall, many East Coast consumers turned to the web for last-minute shopping, suggest data from several e-retailers and technology providers. Marketing messages geared to the big storm appear to have led to sales.
Same-store sales were up 40.5% year over year over the weekend in the Eastern time zone, 37% in the Central time zone and only 8% in the Pacific time zone for clients of e-commerce technology provider MarketLive Inc. “The East Coast is clearly seeing the impact of the weather,” says CEO Mark Pierce.
Sales and conversion rates were up about 15% over the weekend, significantly better than before the storm hit, for the 20 or so apparel and fashion online retailers whose sites are operated by eFashionSolutions, says CEO Ed Foy. “During the period of the storm, a lot of people were converting, not just browsing,” Foy says. He says the company added messaging to its clients’ web sites letting consumers know they would receive their purchases by Christmas.
The storm’s bump also showed up in data from web analytics vendor Coremetrics. While sales for its clients were up 14.6% year over year for the full week of Monday through Sunday, Friday and Saturday sales were 24% greater than during the Friday and Saturday before Christmas last year, and Sunday’s sales were up 20%. “Last-minute shoppers on the East Coast who had intended to hit the malls this weekend really had no option but to shop online,” says John Squire, chief strategy officer at Coremetrics.
Traffic to retail sites held up better last weekend in states hits by the snowstorm, reports web measurement firm Compete Inc. While the percentage of Internet users visiting retail sites declined in most of the nation last weekend compared to the prior weekend, which is to be expected as free shipping offers expire, that was not the case in Maryland or Washington, DC, where the retail percentage went up. And in Virginia and Delaware, the retail traffic percentage was only slightly lower than a week earlier, Compete says.
Similar results came from search marketing firm Efficient Frontier. While clicks to retail sites typically drop in mid-December, the share of clicks from several areas hit by the storm-notably New York, Maryland and Washington, DC-went up, says director of business analytics Sid Shah.
The storm, which blanketed the Eastern seaboard from Virginia to Massachusetts with two or more feet of snow in some locations, cost the retail industry as a whole $2 billion in sales, estimates Planalytics, which tracks the business impact of weather conditions. The firm estimates mall traffic was down 10% across the country on Saturday, and attributes part of the decline to the snowfall in the Northeast, which it says typically accounts for a third of retail sales on the Saturday before Christmas.
Some retailers tried to turn the storm to their advantage, with marketing messages geared to shoppers concerned about the weather.
Interactive marketing agency PM Digital placed ads for its clients on Google search pages with copy such as, “stay home, ship for free,” says Suzy Sandberg, president. The agency also inserted ads on weather-related sites on the Google Content Network, such as Weather.com or the weather pages of newspaper sites, and targeted consumers searching for terms like “blizzard” and “northeastern snowstorm.” She says two-thirds of some 30 clients that had comparable marketing strategies last year garnered higher sales this weekend, averaging gains of 10 percentage points. “It seems when you talk to someone in search in a current manner it really works,” Sandberg says.
Web-only apparel retailer Bluefly Inc. responded to the storm with a $2, two-day shipping offer “to assuage doubts that gifts might not arrive in time for Christmas and remove shipping costs as a barrier to action,” says chief marketing officer Bradford Matson. And it added a 15% off promotion on Sunday. While he would not provide details, Matson says, “There was a clear change to trends in a positive direction.” Bluefly is No. 132 in the Internet Retailer Top 500 Guide (a PDF version of the company’s financial and operating profile can be ordered by clicking on its name).
Home furnishings and gifts retailer Brookstone Inc. promoted on its e-commerce site a special “Blizzard of 2009 Free Shipping” offer through 1 p.m. Eastern time Monday. The retailer would not disclose sales figures. Bluefly is No. 154 in the Internet Retailer Top 500 Guide (a PDF version of the company’s financial and operating profile can be ordered by clicking on its name).
Web-only jewelry retailer Ashford.com went live over the weekend with an offer of free overnight shipping on orders over $250 and sent out an e-mail with that offer declaring, “Snow in the Northeast so we are giving the whole country a break,” although ironically the snow delayed sending the e-mail until Monday, says president Eli Katz. He says the overnight shipping offer, combined with the snow and the site`s competitive prices, contributed to an increase in revenue of 118%, traffic of 41% and conversion rate by 65% from Saturday through Monday.
Not all e-commerce service providers, however, reported an impact from the storm. Art Technology Group Inc. says it saw no change from the previous week’s sales among its on-demand clients whose data ATG can see. And search marketing firm SearchIgnite says there was not much change in overall search spending by its retailer clients over the weekend, and little indication that the storm had a big impact on sales.