Byline: Valerie Seckler

NEW YORK — There could be a positive Christmas story for e-tailers in two online spending reports released Monday that show Web sites are taking a piece of the holiday action away from catalogs.
The data from Nielsen/NetRatings and the Abacus research arm of online ad agency DoubleClick, also begins to validate efforts made by catalog merchants such as Lands’ End and Coldwater Creek to migrate some of their catalog customers to the Web. The reason for such efforts is straightforward: It is quicker and less expensive to merchandise fashion online than in a print vehicle, which then has to be mailed to customers, further raising costs.
Nielsen/Net Ratings has found the number of Internet users making online purchases rose to 18 percent for the week ended Nov. 30, up from 11 percent during the first week of that month. Online spending in November peaked Thanksgiving week ending Nov. 23, averaging $81.51 per person, versus $77.41 during the week ended Nov. 30. In all, ‘Net users told N/NR they aim to spend 15 percent of their holiday budget online, up from 13 percent a year ago.
More broadly, Abacus found that during the last six months, 67 percent of U.S. ‘Net users have bought something online, up from 63 percent a year earlier, while 64 percent purchased something via catalogs, down from 69 percent.
“The data allows us to conclude for the first time that the decline in catalog sales is most likely due to a shift to the online channel, along with fewer mailings of catalogs and more cautious spending by consumers,” said Abacus president Brian Rainey.
What is it about the Web that commands a 15 percent share of holiday budgets, when the Internet only gets 1 to 2 percent of overall retail sales annually in the U.S.? For one thing, aggressive promotions. “As we move into the latter half of the online shopping season, e-tailers will entice shoppers with last-minute sales and deep discounts,” projected Lori Iventosch-James, Harris Interactive’s director of e-commerce research.

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