- December 8, 2010

Debunking Five Myths about Holiday E-commerce

With the online holiday shopping and buying season in full swing, I thought it might be helpful to debunk five myths about e-commerce that still seem to be making the rounds in the media. Many of these myths have tended to originate as a result of the use of inappropriate research methodologies

  1. Cyber Monday (the first Monday following Thanksgiving) is the heaviest online buying day of the year
    In the ten years that Comscore has been tracking online buying via unobtrusive electronic measurement through our opt-in panel of 2 million Internet users, we have never seen this to be true. While Cyber Monday is certainly the day when the online shopping season sees its first major spike in sales, the heaviest online buying day actually occurs much later, generally around the middle of December. So, while Cyber Monday this year crossed the $1 Billion threshold and is - as we stand here today - the biggest day in e-commerce history, I fully expect its spending rate to be surpassed later this month.
  2. People do most of their online buying from home
    The fact is that buying from work still accounts for about a half of ecommerce sales despite the increase in high speed Internet connections at home. The main reason appears to be that buying from work affords a level of privacy when buying gifts for family members that’s unavailable at home. In addition, with the increase in dual wage earners in many households and the attendant pressure on spare time, there are likely to be more time slots at work (e.g. lunch hour) in which to squeeze some gift buying.
  3. Surveys of consumers can be used to determine the answer for #2 above.
    While surveys have many valuable applications, one has to be careful when asking very sensitive questions such as “How much of your holiday shopping did you do from work?” I’ve seen guilt compel many a survey respondent be unwilling to truthfully answer that question - or to even answer it at all.
  4. Surveys of retailers can be used to accurately obtain an estimate of total industry growth rates
    As in #3 above, one has to be very careful when using surveys of retailers to get at sensitive issues. Retailers whose sales didn’t grow much (or at all) just aren’t going to be willing to admit to that in a survey. As a result, the survey responses will almost certainly be biased towards the retailers whose businesses performed well and, as a result, will tend to substantially overstate actual industry growth rates.
  5. Purchasing over mobile devices is a significant driver of e-commerce today
    Much has been written about how mobile devices will change the way we purchase, and on that point we can agree. But some have suggested that consumers are using their devices to actually make purchases, and while this may be truer than in years past, the behavior is still fairly insignificant relative to the total size of the e-commerce market. Smartphones, a key driver of more advanced web browsing functionality (such as e-commerce), still account for less than 30% of the U.S. mobile phone market. And, even among those who own a smartphone, just 15% visit a retail site on their phone in a month, with transactions being far, far smaller. Additionally, due to the small screen size of mobile devices, some consumers may never feel comfortable making certain purchases over this medium when they need to be able to see the item in full view. Mobile devices are certainly being used today to obtain pricing information and to receive ads and promotions and have enormous potential to facilitate and enhance the consumer shopping experience even further, but the device is not currently used as a transactional medium and it may take some time before that behavior really takes hold.