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Summary:

Never before have Black Friday and Cyber Monday sales been so carefully tracked as they were this year. The scrutiny makes perfect sense, for the outcome of this shopping season will directly impact our collective economic future. But while there were numerous reports claiming that sales […]

2057157132_7959e27bb3Never before have Black Friday and Cyber Monday sales been so carefully tracked as they were this year. The scrutiny makes perfect sense, for the outcome of this shopping season will directly impact our collective economic future. But while there were numerous reports claiming that sales on those two crucial days were better than most had been expecting, my friend Barry Ritholz, a respected Wall Street contrarian, is skeptical — and says as much on his blog.

Later this week, we should get Master Card’s ShopperPulse data. It is the actual measurement of what people spent (via their MC Credit Card) and has proven to be more reliable than either foot traffic, surveys and other biased sources.

While we wait for that data, here are some facts from various sources which show that things are not as sanguine as people might think.

  • comScore says Black Friday e-commerce sales were $534 million, up 1 percent from last year’s sales of $531 million.
  • The number of page and product views across the online retail sector in general was down 8.55 and 8.29 percent, respectively, compared to Black Friday 2007, according to Coremetrics, which also points out that there was an 18-percent drop in average session length — a clear sign that retailers are struggling to keep customers on their sites. In addition, the number of people who actually completed a purchase dropped by 1.69 percent to 3.49 percent. In other words, there is a lot of hesitation on the part of consumers when it comes to spending.
  • That 1-percent gain in online sales may not translate into profits for etailers. People are buying more per order (4.56 items vs. 4.45 items in 2007), but paying less for it. The average value of their orders dropped by more than 6 percent, to $126.04 from $134.29. It also points to people opting for lower-priced items.
  • On the web sites of department stores, Coremetrics data finds a 12-percent increase in order sessions, a 30-percent surge in average items per order, and a 10-percent rise in average order value — none of which is good news for specialty retailers.

Who Buckled Under the Buying Rush?

Our friends at Gomez, a company that tracks the technical performance of web sites, sent us a long list of sites that went down and/or couldn’t keep up with consumers.

  • On Monday, Victoria’s Secret had major problems. It was unable to complete shopping cart transactions (2:15pm ET) and was down completely between 10:06 am-12:00 pm ET, with a message on its site saying it was “down for maintenance.”
  • Availability (defined as the percentage of times that a shopper’s end-to-end transaction is accomplished without error) was not up to par among major brands on Friday. Amazon’s availability was 73.49 percent, while Apple came in at 87.35 percent and Circuit City at 63.75 percent.
  • Sears had just over 61 percent availability, but turned in a performance of 100 percent on Saturday.
  • Dell saw downtime of around 35 minutes between 9:40 am and 10:15 am ET.
  • Staples availability was somewhat off, at 84 percent, on Friday, but rose to 95 percent by Saturday.

What Was Hot — and What Was Not

  • HDTV’s were the hot item this season, thanks to prices that literally nosedived. According to Retrevo (see disclosure below), a Sunnyvale, Calif-based company that tracks the consumer electronics market, by Black Friday, interest in HDTVs had surged by more than 250 percent compared to interest at the beginning of November. Indeed, Samsung’s LN52A650 52″ LCD TV was the fourth best-selling product over the web on Black Friday, according to PriceGrabber.
  • Nintento Wii topped PriceGrabber’s list of Black Friday products, followed by Ugg boots, the Sony BDP-S350 1080p Blu-ray Disc Player, Samsung’s LN52A650 52″ LCD TV and Nintendo’s Wii Fit. According to PriceGrabber, year-over-year interest in Blu-ray/HD-DVD Players was up 147 percent.
  • The Wii was a big winner on Cyber Monday as well, according to Price Grabber. In their list of top products, the Sony BDP-S350 1080p Blu-ray Disc Player came in at No. 3, Apple’s iPod Touch 8GB MP3 player was No. 4, followed by Samsung’s LN52A650 52″ LCD TV in the No. 5 spot. Apple’s iPod Nano 3rd Generation 4GB MP3 Player and the Apple iPod Touch 16GB MP3 Player were ranked No. 10 and No. 11, respectively, followed by the Samsung LN46A550 46″ LCD TV (No. 12), the Sharp AQUOS LC42SB45U 42″ LCD TV (No. 14) and the PanasonicTH-42PX80U 42″ Plasma TV (No. 16).
  • According to RBC Captial Markets analyst Mark Sue, consumer electronics retailers used navigation devices as a lure this holiday season. The Garmin Nuvi 200 was available for $97, the TomTom One 125 for $99, the Garmin Nuvi 260w for $189, and the Magellan 1212 for just $79. Sue points out that Garmin’s mid- to higher-tier products were being discounted as well. While this might mean good news for consumer electronics retailers in the short term, I get the feeling they might have pulled too much of their sales forward and will struggle in the coming months.

Image courtesy of tshein via Flickr.

Full disclosure: Retrevo is backed by Alloy Ventures, an investor in Giga Omni Media, the parent company of this blog.

By Om Malik

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  1. I had trouble on a number of sites individually but then I went to Sortprice (http://www.sortprice.com ) and was able to overcome some of the tech issues. Got some good deals on video games too!

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  2. I would love to get myself a Wii.

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  3. We saw a lot of great deals on shoes as well (Endless, Shoes.com). I was surprised and disappointed at how often popular merchant sites would go down. Jcrew, Old Navy and Banana Republic were all down during peak hours. Really unfortunate for our shoppers who wanted to take advantage of their Cyber Monday deals.

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  4. Live.com had major issues on Fri when it offered 40% at HPShopping. Believe TechCrunch had post about it on Friday and so do many of the price comparison sites.

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  6. How realistic is such forthcoming data from MC? What about taking into account Visa, Amex, Discover, and cash payers? I believe there have been many reports this shopping season that most consumers are opting NOT to buy on credit and either use debit cards or cash… So I say the data will not be complete or will not be accurate…

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  9. Om,
    To your comment – “according to Coremetrics, which also points out that there was an 18-percent drop in average session length — a clear sign that retailers are struggling to keep customers on their sites.”

    Is that a sign of site abandonment or customers finding what they are looking for faster? We(Baynote.com) don’t use session length as a significant metric to indicate ecommerce site performance. For media sites, I think this is more important, since the goal is to burn more ads. On Ecommerce sites our products show the right stuff immediately, which can cut down session length drastically, but increase conversion rates and revenues.

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  10. Some interesting points were brought up today regarding the outage of web hosting servers that brought down most likely millions of dollars of transactions.

    It made me start thinking about the web hosting company’s responsibility to the e-tailor and web store owners. We have not heard of these types of issues on a major scale in a while like we have on cyber Monday.

    The question I pose to web hosting companies is how much responsibility should they bear? For example, if Victoria’s secret is in an outage, and they estimate that they have lost about $500,000 in sales due that the server, is there any type of reassurance from the host that they will some how better this in the future and try to right this situation?

    In all honesty, it probably does not matter to Victoria’s secret or Best Buy or Amazon for an hour, however, what about Joe selling sandals online or someone trying to make a living on eBay that an hour to them could be the difference of paying their bills for that particular month…

    Food for thought and I’d love to hear what others think about the web hosting agent’s responsibility to the e-tailor.

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