Drift: Snowstorm Gives Online Sales A Lift

online shopping

The snowstorm that grounded planes and closed roads up and down the Eastern seaboard last weekend might have been a blessing in disguise for online retailers. Some suggest that it forced people to Web sites who might not have otherwise ventured online to make purchases.

About 67% of retailers saw stronger year-over-year online performance on Saturday and Sunday, compared with the previous weekend, according to Internet marketing firm PM Digital. The data pulled together with the company's Holiday Dashboard reporting tool provides a sampling of about 30 retailers.

Paid search orders experienced year-over-year gains, on average 10% higher, during the final weekend before Christmas. "The East Coast winter storm helped propel last-minute shoppers online during the final weekend," says Suzy Sandberg, president of PM Digital. "Years ago I would load up shopping carts and the whole thing would crash, and you would have to do it again. Forget it, you know."

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Even before the storm, consumers spent a record $913 million on Dec. 15 -- setting a new record, according to comScore. To date this holiday season, consumers spent $24.8 billion online in the first 48 days of the holiday period, up 4% from the year-ago period. The data is based on online activity of hundreds of thousands of U.S. consumers who allowed comScore to monitor their Internet use.

Online sales continue to rise, but consumers also abandon shopping carts, clicking to close the browser before completing the transaction. On Black Friday, the day after Thanksgiving, 25.8% of consumers who started to make a purchase at sears.com abandoned the shopping cart before completing the transaction, for example. That's down from 36.5% in 2008, according to data research company Compete.

Within the stable of companies that Compete compiles data about, qvc.com's abandonment rate ranked highest at 73.3% for Black Friday 2009, up from 68.6% in the prior year. Amazon.com ranked among the lowest at 24.3% this year, remaining unchanged from the prior year.

Overall, shopping cart abandonment rates rose 1.5% to 34% on Black Friday, according to Compete.

Experts say retargeting offers opportunities to marketers that are not fully explored. A Search Engine Marketing Professional Organization (SEMPO) and Advertise.com study shows that only 30.5% of the marketers surveyed had tried remarketing with online advertising, and 51% of them said it provided impact. The same study found that retargeting topped the list of most under-utilized marketing technologies at 46.3%.

"Retargeting presents a bit of a creep factor, so you really have to be careful," Sandberg says. "From what we've heard, some consumers are put off by an email or a banner showing them what was in their abandoned shopping cart. It plays into how much of my information is being tracked."

Sandberg says that companies could retarget smarter by offering incentives for people to come back. Brands do not necessarily have to tie it to a specific product, but rather discounts or offerings.

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