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Holiday Shopping: Early results favor e-commerce

story by Kim Souza
ksouza@thecitywire.com

Two analytic firms announced Wednesday (Nov. 28) mixed early results from Black Friday shopping among specialty stores and e-commerce sales.

Despite earlier openings among a vast number of brick and mortar stores, RetailNext reports longer shopper hours did little to boost overall traffic among specialty stores.

At the same time, comScore says e-commerce sales are up 16% this holiday season over the 2011 period.

RetailNext found that on Black Friday (Nov. 23) specialty retailers saw significant early traffic that didn't always translate to sales. For example, from midnight until 6 a.m. on Black Friday, almost 7% of the day's traffic had visited specialty retail stores but only 3.4% of its sales had occurred.

And while retailers open on Thanksgiving Day did better than in 2011, they mostly moved their sales earlier into the week rather than generating additional sales. Among retailers who were open on Thanksgiving Day, sales were up 47% from a year ago on flat traffic (up 1.5%). But traffic and sales slacked off for the rest of weekend.

"We're seeing a strong pull for shopping to take place earlier in the season, but that hasn't translated to overall increases in sales," said Shelley Kohan, vice president of retail consulting. "In fact, the extended hours appear to have hurt specialty retailers who may not share the ability of the large anchor stores to draw in early shoppers through extreme sales and widely viewed marketing programs."

Figures for the specialty segment bear out this idea, with overall traffic down 10.9% year-over-year for the full weekend. Fortunately, specialty retailers increased average transactional value of sales by 10%, leaving total sales down 4.7% compared to 2011. Black Friday itself mirrored these trends, with year-over-year traffic down 9.2%. Once again a healthy average total volume increase of 11.5% offset these weak points so that total sales were down a much milder 3.2%.

Kohan says more shoppers are researching their products and comparing prices online from the comfort of their homes.

"They determine their purchases before they leave the house and decide which items they will purchase on-line versus the products they will purchase in the physical store,” she added.

Meanwhile, comScore, a leader in measuring the digital world, reports online sales for this holiday season total more than $16.4 billion thus far. E-commerce business is up 16% from a year ago, the firm said.

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“Despite some news reports suggesting that Cyber Monday might be declining in importance, the day has once again set an online spending record at nearly $1.5 billion,” said comScore chairman Gian Fulgoni. “However, it is also clear that the holiday promotional period has begun even earlier this year, with strong online sales occurring on Thanksgiving Day and Black Friday. Now, we shall see the extent to which continuing and attractive retailer promotions are able to boost sales for the remainder of the season.”

Cyber Monday reached $1.465 billion in online spending, up 17% versus year ago, representing the heaviest online spending day in history and the second day this season (in addition to Black Friday) to surpass $1 billion in sales.

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