eShoppers Get A Head Start

Wendall Jackson

Traditionally recognized as the opening of the holiday shopping season, the day after Thanksgiving (known in retail circles as “Black Friday”) is heralded in by early store openings, late closings, and season-starting discounts aimed at generating quick capital right from the outset of the retail year’s most lucrative month.

This time-honored tradition may be changing, however, as mall weary consumers trade the hustle and bustle of brick and mortar for the comfort and ease of e-commerce - or so the latest findings of the 2003 Holiday eSpending Report would suggest.

Produced by Goldman Sachs, Harris Interactive and Nielsen/NetRatings, the eSpending Report is based on a survey of online shoppers - many of whom reported starting well before Thanksgiving, with some eager participants claiming to already be finished with their holiday shopping.

Showing a 7% increase in online shopping over the same period last year, with 67% of respondents having visited an e-commerce site during the week ending November 15, the holiday season looks great for e-tailers. According to Lori Iventosch-James, Harris Interactive’s director of e-commerce research, “This year we're seeing people begin their online holiday shopping earlier, with 56 percent reporting that they have either started or finished their online holiday shopping, up 10 points from 46 percent this time last year.”

Analysts at JupiterResearch have forecast that online sales this holiday season will reach $17 billion; which is a whopping 21% increase over 2003’s holiday e-sales figures. Jupiter is also projecting that around 40% of online users will do at least some of their holiday shopping online; showing an 18% increase over 2002.

Selection, shopping ease, and convenience seem to be driving the increase, with half of those consumers polled reporting that they can find products more easily online than in traditional stores.

Robert Leathern, director of commerce analytics for Nielsen/NetRatings, opined that “The data points to a strong online holiday shopping season. Convenience and the ease of comparing products and pricing are advantages that online retailers continue to have over stores: this year, increased category breadth and improved site usability are drawing seasoned and new shoppers alike to online commerce sites.”

The eSpending Report claims that the average consumer will spend 23% of their shopping budget online, up 4% from last year, as compared to approximately 70% allocated for in-store shopping; indicating that malls and major retail chains remain strong shopping destinations, with print catalog shopping accounting for the remaining 7% of holiday sales.