Report: E-tail Slips After Thanksgiving Week

Eighteen percent of Internet users made an online purchase during the last week of November, with each spending an average of US$77 — a slight drop from the previous week — according to a report released Monday.

Per-shopper spending levels for the 2001 holiday season to date peaked during Thanksgiving week, when the average outlay was $82, according to the eSpending report from Goldman Sachs, Harris Interactive and Nielsen//NetRatings.

However, the average amount spent in the most recent week was 34 percent higher than the $58 per shopper spent during the first week of November.

“Sales and special promotions during the last two weeks in November helped increase the average dollar spent online for shoppers,” said Lori Iventosch-James, director of e-commerce research at Harris Interactive.

Small Gains

The eSpending report also found that U.S. consumers plan to spend 15 percent of their holiday gift budgets online this year, up from 13 percent a year ago.

“The online channel is a significant, and growing component of the holiday economy in the United States,” NetRatings vice president of analytical services Sean Kaldor said.

Some of the Web’s gains will come at the expense of brick-and-mortar retailers, which will get 79 percent of consumer holiday spending, compared with 80 percent last year, and some from catalogs, where consumers will buy 6 percent of their holiday purchases from this year, compared with 7 percent a year ago.

Smarter Retailers

Meanwhile, a separate study by Shop.org and the Boston Consulting Group (BCG) found that online retailers are taking a more cautious approach to the holiday season, balancing the need to drive sales through promotional offers with the need to maintain profitability.

The Shop.org-BCG study, which was released Tuesday, found that both pure-play and multichannel retailers have learned from past mistakes and are using a more targeted approach to holiday promotions.

For instance, the study said that free-shipping offers, when tied to minimum purchase sizes, help increase average order sizes and therefore boost profit margins. The study found that 45 percent of retailers planned to offer free shipping, up from 28 percent in 2000.

“Retailers who deliver merchandising and promotions through online and offline channels targeted at the biggest spenders in any given category will emerge as the winners this holiday season,” BCG vice president Peter Stanger said. “On the other hand, an undifferentiated, heavily discounted offering will lead to low margins and losses.”

Cutting Costs

The Shop.org-BCG study also found that online retailers have cut back marketing costs and used online marketing techniques such as e-mail more heavily in the third quarter. That in turn helped lower average customer acquisition costs to $12 from $20 in the second quarter.

“Since the dot-com correction and through the current recession, retailers have learned to be better marketers online, which is helping to put them in stronger financial shape than last holiday season,” Shop.org chairman Elaine Rubin said. “As retailing on the Web has matured, the bar measuring online success has also been raised.”

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