Study: Struggling Economy Prolonged Online Shopping Season

Online retail buying trends show consumers began shopping much earlier for the holidays in 2008 than in previous years, according to a new study by digital marketing service provider OneupWeb.

Though the week of Halloween (Oct. 27 to Nov. 2) marked a significant decrease in unique visits, the study shows that unique visits began rising from there, and hit a peak the week of Thanksgiving (Nov. 24 to Nov. 30).

What followed was Cyber Monday and the second highest week for unique visits (Dec. 1 to Dec. 7), and a steady decline occurred from there, with a significant drop-off in unique visits occurring the week of Christmas (Dec. 22 to 28).

Conversion rates fluctuated in late September and early October, and hit a peak the week of Halloween. There was a slight decrease in conversions the week of Thanksgiving, but conversion rates rose again with the week of Cyber Monday marking the second highest peak. Numbers fell from there on, experiencing a slight increase the week following Christmas.

Total sales rose and fell several times throughout the study, experiencing positive numbers the week of Nov. 3 to Nov. 9 and Nov. 17 to Nov. 23. While the week of Cyber Monday did experience slightly higher numbers than the week of Thanksgiving, sales then slipped steadily, and hit a low the week of Christmas. A slight increase in sales did occur the week following Christmas (Dec. 28 to Jan. 4).

The analysis covers the final 15 weeks of 2008 and encompasses the actions of more than 1.5 million unique consumers. The data gathered was from paid campaigns on Google, Yahoo and MSN.

What can merchants learn from these findings? OneupWeb has a few suggestions for retailers to maximize e-commerce campaigns throughout 2009:

  • Plan ahead and follow through. Merchants need to have online holiday campaigns and discounts in place the first week of October. They should schedule goals well ahead of the shopping season and not let up.
  • Compel shoppers to make immediate purchases. With the state of the economy, many consumers are becoming more budget-conscious, taking several days or weeks to make a decision on a purchase. Yet the trend to buy is moving earlier in the season. Don’t risk losing potential customers to your competition. Offer special incentives to compel them to buy now–early in the season. And to capture those last-minute browsers, take advantage of the power of “free”–offer free shipping to help lock in that sale.
  • Stay connected. With more consumers engaging in window-shopping and price comparisons, it’s important to keep the conversation going–and to make it easy. Stay top of mind through the strategic use of initiatives like e-mail, search and social media.
  • Integrate. Greater awareness of a Website created by a paid ad can lead to more natural search engine traffic. Likewise, consumers are logically more likely to click on a paid promotional ad of marketers they recognize, such as those they’ve encountered during a natural search.

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