More Web Shopping Is What's in Store
Tuesday, December 7, 2004; 10:10 AM
"Categories showing the highest growth in holiday spending last month included toys/video games, video/DVDs and music. The toys/video games category grew 43 percent over last year, while the video/DVDs and music categories increased 39 percent and 32 percent," Reuters said in a near-verbatim pick-up of the survey's canned release.
Reuters via washingtonpost.com: Online Sales Jump In November (Registration required)
Another dispatch from the wire service in advance of the holiday rush gave a rosy forecast: "U.S. consumers are expected to spend $16.7 billion online during the holiday months of November and December, an increase of 29 percent from the year-earlier period, according to research firm eMarketer," the article said. And the Monday after Thanksgiving, Reuters picked up on yet another survey of brisk online sales. "Thanksgiving online spending doubled this year to $133 million and Black Friday sales were up 41 percent to $250 million, said comScore, which has forecast 2004 holiday sales from November and December rising as much as 26 percent year-over-year to $15.5 billion."
From Clicks to Bricks
The online traffic and sales surge, however, has not equated to across-the-board pay dirt for big-box retailers and department stores. Target, Wal-Mart, Sears and others have had to focus on selling tech goods -- and cutting prices of some hot items -- to help boost disappointing overall sales.
"Some chains staged successful promotional events in late November as they slashed prices aggressively on wool overcoats, digital cameras and flat-screen televisions. Even so, the forecasts that retailers gave for the crucial month of December were mixed," the Wall Street Journal reported Friday. Tech seemed to be the small silver lining in a lot of other tepid retail news, such as this nugget from the same article: "Although video game sales have been reported healthy at Wal-Mart and specialty chains amid the release of a few new titles, such as Microsoft Corp.'s 'Halo 2', there aren't many hot new toys to fuel a big season this year, analysts say."
The Wall Street Journal: Cash Registers in November Weren't Slow Only at Wal-Mart (Subscription required)
The Los Angeles Times on Friday penned its own piece saying weak in-store sales might be a further indication that people are flocking online to purchase goods. "Sales at stores open for at least one year, a key industry indicator, rose just 1.7 percent, compared with 3.7 percent in November 2003, according to a survey whose results were released Thursday. And of the 71 retail chains surveyed, 45 percent reported sales declines," the Times said. "Instead of shopping steadily through the month in a way that builds momentum, he said, people bought in surges spurred by sales, and that made for little 'follow-through' spending. What's more, he said, bricks-and-mortar stores may have lost revenues as more Americans shopped on the Internet." It isn't surprising then that J.C. Penney Co. is among the traditional stores running a TV ad campaign to lure people to its Web site, while Nordstrom, which has stores in just 27 states, is hawking its gift cards in national print ads.
The Los Angeles Times: Early Holiday Sales Weak (Registration required)
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Another reason that shopping online might have a leg up on shopping en vivo is consumers' ability to personalize Web-bought gifts. Business Week recently ran an article on the run-up in sales for specialized goods, including sites that sell everything from cookies imprinted with digital pictures to custom-fit clothing from Lands' End.
"Today inscribing initials on luggage or towels seems quaintly old-fashioned compared to what's available on the Web. Thanks to improvements in software that display customized goods online, guide users through the selection process, and automate production, individualizing a gift has gotten far more sophisticated -- and, dare we say, trendy -- this holiday season," the article said. "Of course, not much of this is new except for the variety of choices. Custom-made products have been around forever. ... What's changed is that, thanks to the Web, a broader variety of custom products have become more accessible and affordable. For many goods, the extra fee is only $10 to $20, and delivery time is usually up to four weeks. In the past, custom was necessarily a high-end item. Not anymore. At Target you can order custom jeans for about $35. That's about 50 percent higher than the $23 off-the-rack price, but still hardly a painful premium."
Business Week: Web Retailing Gets Really Personal