Third-Quarter Ecommerce Results Bode Well for the 2012 Holiday Season

The growth in online purchasing continues. In a survey of 1,989 online consumers conducted during the last week of October, digital-tracking firm comScore found that In Q3 2012, online sales grew 15 percent over the same period last year, compared with a two percent year-over-year growth rate for offline retail sales.

Total year to date online spending was up 16 percent — excluding travel, autos, and auctions — over the first three quarters of 2011. Showing consistent growth, online ecommerce revenues have achieved double-digit gains in every quarter since Q4 2010.

Overall Consumer Views of the Economy

Unfortunately, consumers still have a gloomy view of the economy, with 48 percent characterizing it as “poor.” However that is an eight percent improvement over July and the most positive result in four years. The comScore survey revealed that respondents are most concerned about rising prices. Economic uncertainty during the major holiday shopping days could make consumers jittery.

Key Online Shopping Metrics

According to comScore, from Q3 2011 to Q3 2012:

  • Ecommerce sales rose 16 percent from $36.3 billion to $41.9 billion.
  • The number of transactions grew from 429 million to 467 million, a nine percent increase.
  • The number of online purchasers rose from 182 million to 194 million, an increase of seven percent.
  • The value of the average order increased six percent, from $85 to $90.
  • Transactions per buyer edged up from 2.36 to 2.41, a two percent rise.
  • Dollars per buyer — average order size x transactions per buyer — went from $200 to $217 during the same timeframe, an increase of eight percent.

The categories that experienced the strongest sales growth were digital content and subscriptions, consumer electronics, event tickets, apparel and accessories, video games, consoles, and accessories, jewelry and watches, and flowers and greetings.

Shopping Influences

While merchant websites, search engines, online advertising, and digital coupons create awareness of products and services, friends and family are instrumental in creating a perceived need or wish for products. Television and print media also contribute to consumers’ online purchase decisions. Brick and mortar stores act as a catalyst for online buying with the practice of showrooming driving actual purchases to the Internet — see “Showrooming Challenges Brick-and-Mortar Retailers,” a previous article. In the comScore survey, 37 percent of consumers admitted to engaging in showrooming behavior in Q3 2012, up from 32 percent in Q2.

Pinterest has grown dramatically in visitors since 2011 with 20 million more monthly visitors than the 2011 holiday season. Pinterest users tend to be big online spenders, as 74 percent of Pinterest users are more likely to make online purchasers than others — so it is important for online merchants to have a Pinterest presence.

Biggest Shopping Days

While Cyber Monday and Black Friday are the biggest spending days, Thanksgiving Day has become an increasingly important online shopping day, especially in the evening hours. comScore attributes this to the advent of tablets that can easily be used in a family room after Thanksgiving dinner. comScore characterizes this as “sit-back shopping.” Apparel and accessories comprise 50 percent of tablet shopping. Ten percent of all ecommerce expenditures now come from tablets and smartphones.

2012 Ecommerce Holiday Forecast

comScore predicts a 15 to 18 percent increase in online sales over last year. Much of this is attributable to the general shift from brick and mortar purchases to online purchases. This year there are two more shopping days between Thanksgiving and Christmas than there were in 2011. Another reason is a general improvement in consumer sentiment.

However, the “fiscal cliff” tax law changes that will go into effect in January if Congress does not act before then may dampen holiday shopping if the issues are not resolved soon.

Marcia Kaplan
Marcia Kaplan
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