For Web merchants, it’s beginning to look a lot like a good Christmas

Merchants may now be in the home stretch of the race for Christmas sales, but online marketers are already feeling pretty cheery. According to the 2005 Shop.org/BizRate Research eHoliday Mood Study, a poll of 1,932 online buyers and 109 online retailers (all members of Shop.org) conducted Dec. 12-14, 82% reported feeling very or somewhat optimistic about the holiday season. The number of online retailers saying they feel “very optimistic” increased to 41% compared to 24% when they were surveyed in late September before the holiday season began.

Web marketers have good reason to be celebrating the season: More than a third of retailers report sales growth of 50% or higher compared to the same time last year, and three-quarters of retailers report growth of 20% or higher. “Aggressive marketing and promotions, combined with enhanced customer service and product availability have kept the momentum going,” according to Scott Silverman, executive director of Shop.org.

Fifty-nine percent of online retailers reported that their average order size increased compared to last year and 58% of retailers reported that their browse-to-buy or “conversion” rate increased compared to last year. Moreover, 56% of the Web marketers surveyed say that their return on investment in paid search has increased compared to last year at the same time. Increased spending on paid search was the most frequently mentioned mid-holiday marketing adjustment being made by online retailers.

Shoppers seem to be full of good cheer too – 96% of online shoppers say that they are satisfied with their Web buying experience so far this holiday season. “The hard work online retailers have put into creating the best possible online shopping experience is paying off,” said Chuck Davis, chairman of Shopzilla.

Not that Web merchants are ready to kick back and pop the champagne just yet. During the week of Dec. 19, more than half of online retailers said they will still be offering free shipping promotions and 35% of retailers will offer free shipping upgrades, allowing shoppers to receive two-day shipping at the cost of standard shipping.

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