E-Commerce Sales Dropped 3 Percent For Holiday Season '08, Worse Than Expected

E-Commerce holiday purchases this year dropped 3 percent from the corresponding period last year, hitting $25.5 billion, according to ComScore. "The 2008 online holiday shopping season has declined 3 percent versus year ago, falling behind our expectation of flat sales this year," said ComScore Chairman Gian Fulgoni. "This marks the first time we've seen negative growth rates for the holiday season since we began tracking E-Commerce in 2001. The combination of having five fewer shopping days between Thanksgiving and Christmas and the severe economic headwinds faced by consumers has made this a really tough season for retailers, both offline and online." ComScore defined the holiday season as running from November 1 to December 23. When it expanded that timeframe to look at almost the full fourth quarter—which ComScore defines as running from October 1 to December 28—the numbers actually got slightly worse, with identical year-to-year quarter comparisons with 2007 showing a 4 percent drop to $36.8 billion. "The fourth quarter of 2008 will also mark the first full quarter to record a negative growth rate since ComScore began tracking E-Commerce," said a ComScore statement. When the topic moves away from revenue to unique visitors and examines specific retailers, the picture changes. For the record, 'unique visitors' is not the best metric for evaluating E-Commerce activity. Most sites rely heavily on repeat purchases from top customers, so to treat every visitor—regardless of what that visitor does while visiting—the same and to ignore repeat visits—as unique visitor tracking does—is not an ideal E-Commerce metric. Still, taken with a grain of HTML salt, it can be interesting. That said, the top-ranked sites saw some significant increases, and decreases, in their unique visitor numbers. Apple.com, for example, is the fifth top site and saw a 19 percent increase compared with last year's identical period. Other sites that saw sharp increases in their 'uniques' were 13th-ranked Hewlett-Packard, with a 28 percent increase, and second-to-the-top-ranked Amazon, with a 7 percent increase. On the down side, #10 Circuit City dropped 21 percent, #14 Dell dropped 17 percent, #11 Overstock dropped 16 percent, #12 American Greetings dropped 15 percent, #7 JC Penney dropped 11 percent, #8 Toys R Us fell 9 percent and #1 eBay took a 4 percent hit. The full list in sequence—from highest to the 15th lowest in unique visitors—is eBay, Amazon, Walmart, Target, Apple, Best Buy, JC Penney, Toys R Us, Sears, Circuit City, Overstock, American Greetings, HP, Dell and Macys.