U.S. online sales are expected to exceed $61 billion in November and December, making the holiday shopping season vital to small and mid-sized retailers.
Six trends — ecommerce growth, mobile sales, an increased number of free shipping offers, early sales promotions, competitive pricing, and new competitors — could have an impact on holiday revenues.
1. U.S. Retail Ecommerce Sales Will Grow More than 15 Percent
Last week, trend monitoring firm eMarketer revised its holiday sales projections upwards and reported that it now expects 2013 U.S. retail ecommerce holiday season sales to grow about 15.1 percent to $61.8 billion, up from $53.7 billion in the 2012 holiday season and $46.6 billion in the 2011 holiday shopping season.
For the entire year, eMarketer expects U.S. retail ecommerce sales — excluding travel and ticket sales — to reach $262.3 billion, up 16.4 percent from 2012. On a quarter-by-quarter basis, U.S. retail ecommerce should grow about 15.5 percent in the fourth quarter to $83.2 billion, again according to eMarketer.
Separately, ecommerce platform provider Volusion predicted that global retail ecommerce sales for small and mid-sized businesses would grow about 20 percent. Although Volusion’s forecast and the eMarketer predictions are not based on the same sample or data, both may imply that relatively smaller retailers might enjoy greater sales growth than large retailers like Amazon, Best Buy, or Walmart.
2. 16 Percent of U.S. Online Sales Will Come From Mobile Devices
U.S. retail ecommerce sales from mobile devices should reach $9.8 billion in November and December of this year, accounting for 16 percent of ecommerce market, according to eMarketer data released September 5.
“Tablets are particularly significant for m-commerce sales growth,” eMarketer reported, adding that retail ecommerce sales from tablets should total $26 billion for 2013, accounting for some 62.5 percent of all mobile-based ecommerce sales. Growth in tablet-based online sales should top 87 percent.
3. Even More Retailers Will Offer Free Shipping
Many consumers have come to expect free shipping or at least free shipping with a minimum purchase. In fact, a UPS study conducted in May 2013 found that 68 percent of shoppers have recommended a particular online store to a friend simply because it offered free shipping.
Separately, Google reported that queries for the term “free shipping” surge early in the holiday shopping season, peaking on Cyber Monday.
In response to this sort of popularity with consumers, expect even more online and multi-channel retailers to offer free shipping options.
4. Promotions Will Start Sooner
“For the big shopping seasons, people are making their wish lists — and shopping lists — earlier than ever,” wrote Google sales managers Erin Dean, Jacalyn Stolt, and Nina Thatcher in an August 2013 article. “In July, nearly half of surveyed shoppers already had made plans for when to purchase their holiday gifts. Of those actively planning, 30 percent are expecting to start before Halloween.”
With shoppers eager to buy early, retailers are responding. A survey from personalization provider Baynote and The E-tailing Group found that 30 percent of retailers plan to start holiday 2013 promotions by October 1 this year, indicating that many stores want to capture early season sales.
5. Unfortunately Price Will Matter Even More
While many of the 2013 holiday shopping season predictions have been generally positive — more ecommerce sales, more mobile sales — it may also be the case that shoppers will, perhaps increasingly, use price to make buying decisions.
A Google Consumer Survey from July 2013 found that consumers are generally not loyal to a particular brand when shopping for gifts, with 40 percent of those surveyed saying that they simply look for the best price.
What’s more, finding the best price is getting a lot easier for holiday shoppers, who can check online marketplaces like Amazon, Rakuten, and Newegg; shopping price comparison sites, including Google Shopping, NexTag, PriceGrabber, and similar; and mobile price comparison applications.
6. More Competition for Small Sellers
Many brick-and-mortar retailers, including Walmart, missed second-quarter sales estimates this year, indicating, perhaps, that while ecommerce is growing, overall retail is not nearly as hot.
Potentially sluggish brick-and-mortar retail sales has motivated some small shop owners, who had been holding out, if you will, to begin selling online.
In addition to boutique stores coming online, better and easier-to-use ecommerce solutions from companies like Bigcommerce, Volusion, Shopify, and Magento are making it even easier to start a new ecommerce business.
As ecommerce revenue grows, so will the number of retailers trying to earn a share of those sales.