Good News: Online Sales Expected to Rise This Holiday Season

If you’re like me, you noticed that on Nov. 1, right after the bags of Halloween candy were pulled off the supermarket and drugstore shelves, the holiday items began to appear.

Folks, the holiday shopping — and selling — season has begun.

This year, there’s actually some good news leading into the holiday season. For starters, on Nov. 5, major retailers announced their best sales in months.

If you’re like me, you noticed that on Nov. 1, right after the bags of Halloween candy were pulled off the supermarket and drugstore shelves, the holiday items began to appear.

Folks, the holiday shopping — and selling — season has begun.

This year, there’s actually some good news leading into the holiday season. For starters, on Nov. 5, major retailers announced their best sales in months.

What’s more, U.S. online sales are expected to rise 8 percent this holiday season, according to a recent report from Forrester Research. Online retail sales in November and December are expected to reach $44.7 billion this year, up from $41.4 billion a year ago, according to the report, providing a bright spot to a retail industry that could still see total sales for the season fall.

So, how are online retailers planning to increase sales this year? Through social media and free shipping promotions, at least according to the results of Shop.org’s eHoliday study, conducted by BIGresearch.

Since many shoppers today use Facebook and Twitter regularly — and because these tools are more cost effective than traditional advertising — 47.1 percent of online retailers surveyed for the study are increasing their use of social media this holiday season.

More than half of the online retailer respondents have updated their Facebook pages (60.3 percent) and Twitter pages (58.7 percent) this year, while two-thirds (65.6 percent) have added or enhanced blogs and RSS feeds. 



As for the multitude of free shipping offers expected during this holiday season, 79.4 percent of those retailers surveyed said they will offer free shipping with conditions at some point during the holiday season. More than half (57.4 percent) also plan to offer free shipping without conditions. More than one-third (35.7 percent) said their budgets for free shipping are higher than last year, and nearly as many (30 percent) said free shipping offers will start earlier than a year ago.

Many online retailers have also revamped their websites this holiday season to make it easier for people to shop. Many, for example, have added or revamped their sites’ shopping carts (45.2 percent), search capabilities (44.3 percent), suggested items (42.9 percent), customer ratings and reviews (40.6 percent), and featured sale pages (37.1 percent), according to the study.

So, are you ramping up your use of social media or free shipping promotions this year? Doing anything else you’d like to tell us about? Leave a comment here.

Outlook for Online Retailers: Sunny, With a Chance of Rain

On the surface, a walk through the show floor at the Internet Retailer Conference & Exhibition in Boston, which ran June 15-18, would make even the dourest economist smile.

On the surface, a walk through the show floor at the Internet Retailer Conference & Exhibition in Boston, which ran June 15-18, would make even the dourest economist smile.

With a reported 5,000 attendees and more than 350 exhibitors, the show was the first one I attended this year that felt like a “real” trade show. I saw lots of online and offline retailers and catalogers walking around, discussing Web design, social networking, site navigation, the mobile Web and other online-related matters. I also saw many packed sessions and many smiling, busy vendors. Was this 2009 or 1999?

But beneath all of this good feeling was the fact that the gloomy economy was still top-of-mind for most attendees. Many said that while they were there learning about the latest trends, they were still struggling, hoping to break even at year’s end. Others were more hopeful, stating that while their sales were down, their profits were holding steady and they were positive and upbeat about the year ahead.

During a presentation on June 16, Gian Fulgoni, chairman and co-founder of comScore, added a bit to the doom and gloom. He noted that while online retail sales were up 2 percent between both January 2009 and January 2008 and February 2009 and February 2008, they were down 1 percent in March, flat in April and down 4 percent in May. Overall numbers are flat.

But Fulgoni had some good news. E-commerce, for example, clearly continues to outperform brick-and-mortar stores in disposable income-driven product categories, such as sporting goods and fitness merchandise; books and magazines; and music, movies and videos.

What’s more, he said, 74 percent of consumers say they’re likely to shop online before making an offline purchase.

So the weather forecast is mixed. But there’s no denying the real energy on the trade show floor. Let’s keep our fingers crossed.