IBM Digital Analytics Benchmark Shows Early Holiday Online Buying Trends


In recent days, I have been looking at surveys that say retailers are not expecting an increase this year in sales from all channels, based on a short holiday buying season and continued economic uncertainty. And, in a previous item on website performance readiness for the holiday blitz, I did note not only how big this period is for retailers, but also that the Internet is an increasingly critical part of the mix – not just for transactions, but for getting the word out on discounts, comparative shopping at home and in-store, etc.  

The question arises as to whether we are off to a good start online in the U.S.?  Plus, if so, what do we know so far?

Digesting the data

For those of you who might not be familiar, to answer the above questions it seemed like the perfect time of the year to clue you in on one of my favorite resources. The good folks at IBM Digital Analytics Benchmark were kind enough to send along the results they have gathered for Monday, Nov. 25, from their cloud-based IBM Digital Analytics Holiday Benchmark. 

Image via Shutterstock

This is data you can sink your teeth into. It represents the results of IBM’s platform doing real-time tracking of millions of transactions and analyzing terabytes of raw data from approximately 800 retail sites across the U.S. It goes without saying that the 800 while a diverse group according to a variety of metrics happen to represent a rather big slice of online transactions.  

As IBM explained, “Based on the data coming in, it’s clear that retailers increasingly rely on data-driven insight to engage their customers, online and in the moment, with personalized deals across screens and mobile devices.”  

Below is what they were seeing as the Monday online sales were nicely up nearly 12 percent over the same period last year:    

  • Mobile Traffic and Sales:  Mobile traffic accounted for nearly 32 percent of all online traffic, up 42 percent compared to the same period last year. Mobile sales remained strong, exceeding 13    percent of all online sales, up 54 percent year-over-year. 
  • Multi-Screen Shopping Drives Online Sales:  Retailers delivered a seamless and consistent shopping experience for consumers across channels, providing consumers the opportunity to switch between their smartphones and tablets to make purchases. While smartphone traffic   accounted for 20 percent of all online traffic versus tablets at 11 percent, it's clear smartphones were the browsing device of choice for digital consumers. However when it came to making actual purchases, tablet users drove close to 9 percent of online sales, which almost doubled smartphones users, who drove 4.60 percent.
  • iOS vs. Android:  Apple continues its dominance in the mobile shopping arena. As a percentage of total online sales, iOS was more than four times higher than Android, driving 11.06 percent vs. 2.5 percent for Android. On average, iOS users spent $108.68 per order compared to $93.36 for Android users, a difference of 16 percent. iOS also led as a component of overall traffic with 21.93 percent vs. 9.75 percent for Android.
  • Facebook vs. Pinterest: While marketers continue to rely on social media as a driver of brand loyalty, the benchmark revealed an interesting trend when comparing two well-known sites. Shoppers referred from Facebook averaged $79.12 per order, which was 16.5 percent lower than Pinterest referrals, which drove $92.18 per order. However, Facebook referrals converted sales at a 2.6 percent higher rate than Pinterest referrals, perhaps indicating stronger confidence in network recommendations.

Supporting these overall trends, the IBM Digital Analytics Benchmark also reported real-time trends across four of the hottest retail categories:

  1. Department Stores: Monday total online sales grew by close to 72 percent over 2012, with mobile sales growing by 54 percent year over year.
  2. Health and Beauty: Monday total online sales grew by nearly 38 percent over 2012, with mobile sales growing by nearly 89 percent year over year.
  3. Home Goods:  Monday total online sales grew by close to 19 percent over 2012, with mobile sales growing by 34 percent year over year.
  4. Apparel:  Monday total online sales grew by close to 15 percent over 2012, with mobile sales growing by close to 49 percent year over year.

There appear to be some trends, regardless of ultimate volume, that are worth noting.  First, it is not surprising that tablets are the way in which people like to purchase while smartphones are the way they browse. After all seeing is believing and we like those bigger screen views before pulling the trigger on a sale. 

Second, Apple dominating the mobile shopping space is not surprising since it is a global phenomenon.  Part of it has to do with the more affluent profile of Apple users and part on Apple’s hold on the tablet market.  For the coming season and quarters it is likely that the average iOS purchase will surpass Android, but the total number of transactions is going to swing the Android direction based on device sales. This may not happen in the U.S. as quickly as other place in the world given the strong iOS base and its allegiance.

Finally, as noted in the Facebook vs. Pinterest numbers, and without going into the average purchase price discrepancies, which could be accounted for by Facebook having a much broader base of users, clearly recommendations matter. Discounts may drive people to look at things, but as with most things involving physical and virtual purchases from gift cards to big screen TVs, trust matters. In fact, trust in “friends” seems to matter quite a bit.

I can’t wait until the recap of what happens between now and just after the New Year when exhausted we all take a breather from what has become in many instances a contact sport.  Thank you, IBM, for the head’s up.  

Edited by Alisen Downey
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