Ringing Up the Holidays

Web traffic rose for dot-coms, click-and-mortars.

While many called it the worst holiday shopping season for retailers in a decade, online retailers made steady, if not better-than-expected, gains.

Brick-and-mortar retailers continued to assert themselves on the Web even as they often used their sites to drive in-store sales as well.

Jupiter Media Metrix Inc., of New York, in its Holiday 2001 E-Commerce Series report released last week indicated that traffic at online shopping sites was up 50 percent this past holiday season over the same period in 2000.

BizRate.com, meanwhile, tabbed total spending at U.S. online retailers (excluding travel sites) at $6.4 billion between Nov. 19 and Dec. 25, up from 2000s $4.8 billion. That 35 percent increase fell short of the 60 percent increase from 1999 to 2000 but exceeded BizRates estimate.

The Jupiter Media Metrix study indicated that on average 51.3 million unique visitors visited online shopping sites each week from Nov. 18 to Dec. 23. The Web sites of traditional brick-and-mortar retailers benefited the most from the traffic increase, with the top seven brick-and-mortars sites experiencing a 73 percent increase in traffic, the report said.

Amazon.com remained the top online retail site, with 2.5 million unique visitors per day, up from 1.6 million in the 2000 holiday season. The company said it sold 37.9 million items in the six weeks leading up to Christmas. Amazon, of Seattle, has been working hard to drive more traffic to its site through partnerships with brick-and-mortar retailers, such as Toys "R" Us Inc. This past holiday season, Amazon opened on its site a special online store devoted to merchandise from Target Corp.

Amazon Chief Financial Officer Warren Jenson touted such efforts as a generator of growth in customers and sales. "For Amazon and our customers, we now have the full breadth of [Targets] product offering and also the drawing power of the Target brand name within Amazon," said Jenson at the Morgan Stanley Internet Software & Networking Conference in Scottsdale, Ariz., last week.

Walmart.com, the top click-and-mortar site in the 2000 holiday shopping season, slipped from eighth place to 12th place overall, though its average daily unique visits went up. The 2001 holiday season met or exceeded all expectations for the retailers online division, said Walmart.com Senior Vice President and CIO Neil Day. "Our traffic was up far beyond our expectations," said Day, in Brisbane, Calif.

Day would not give specific numbers for Walmart.coms traffic or sales during the holiday shopping season but said the increase didnt detract from the offline stores performance, which also saw a steady sales increase. Day said the relationship between the online and offline channels is complementary.

"A lot of Wal-Mart customers shop online, and a lot of people do research on Walmart.com, then go to the store to buy the product," Day said.