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The online holiday shopping season: A look back at 2012 and what we can expect in 2013

The holiday season is upon us once again! Stores are filling with holiday gifts and gadgets and our emails will soon be inundated with holiday shopping deals and ads. With 96 of the top 100 online retailers (according to Internet Retailer) as customers, our Akamai Commerce team has been working around the clock, alongside our retail customers and partners, to deliver, optimize and secure consumers' online shopping experiences this season. Before the season is in full swing, however, we'd like to take a look back at some of last year's holiday shopping traffic trends to paint a picture of what the 2013 online holiday shopping season may look like.

Let's start at the beginning. In 2012, traffic to retailers' websites averaged between two to three million views per minute, give or take a few spikes here and there. As the Thanksgiving holiday nears, the traffic begins to climb to four or five million views per minute. You can see this movement for yourself if you visit our Net Usage Index and select the "Retail" industry. This publicly available index shows web traffic spikes by geography and industry in real-time, and going back about a year and a half.

On Thanksgiving last year we saw online shopping peak at around 9 p.m. ET with nearly 7.6 million page views per minute, suggesting many consumers didn't wait for Black Friday to begin their holiday shopping. As can be expected, Black Friday drove 25% more average traffic than Thanksgiving, with a similar peak of more than 7.5 million page views per minute at 11 a.m. ET. Black Friday tends to drive much higher peaks earlier in the day because of research activity for offline shopping in the morning hours.

As far as where consumers did their shopping, according to a survey from NRF, approximately 48% of respondents did their Black Friday holiday shopping online, and according to data from IBM, 24% of visits on Black Friday came from mobile devices. Additionally, IBM found that nearly 60% of consumers used smartphones and 41% used tablets to look for deals on Black Friday. In 2013, we expect to see more of this on Black Friday, as consumers use coupon and savings sites to do research and search for gifts from the comfort of their own home, as they recover from Thanksgiving dinner. Are your sites ready to deliver great experiences across screens and browsers?

We also saw in 2012 that consumers shopped in store, online and on mobile devices simultaneously to get the best Black Friday deals. There will be more of this in 2013 as shoppers continue to use the resources they have at their disposal to become smarter and savvier shoppers. Mobile activity peaked between 9 and 10 p.m. ET on Black Friday, with many consumers likely checking for deals on their phones before bed.

 

Last year, the Black Friday momentum continued through the following Saturday, maintaining a peak of 7. 6 million views per minute at 2:05 a.m. ET, meaning that East Coast shoppers browsed well into the morning and West Coast folks stayed up late. They took a break on the Sunday before Cyber Monday, though, with peak views dropping to 6 million per minute at noon ET.


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Cyber Monday in 2012 was incredibly popular, with page views spiking at 8.5 million at 9 p.m. ET, further proving the night owls' approval of the convenience of "window" shopping and purchasing from the internet. We can expect similar behavior in 2013. Whereas other traditionally big holiday shopping days - like Free Shipping Day in mid-December and the December 28 post-holiday sale - will likely be slightly less popular. Last year the peak page views on these days were 4.1 million and 3.6 million, respectively.

 

Last year, online Thanksgiving Day sales increased by 17% over 2011, online Black Friday sales increased by 21% and online Cyber Monday sales increased by 30 percent, according to an annual holiday consumer retail spending report from Baynote. We'll likely see an increase in overall online holiday shopping sales in 2013, similar to what we saw in 2012.

 

We hope you'll find it insightful to compare your site's traffic to the aggregate of thousands of retail sites in the US and Europe. Here are the stats you can expect to find on our blog this season:

  • Overall, online traffic patterns, including peak traffic times and days, through our Retail Net Usage Index
  • The types of mobile devices and browsers consumers are using this year
  • Any other unique and interesting traffic patterns we find

Any other data you'd like us to cover? What are your predictions for the 2013 holiday shopping season? Let us know by commenting below.  

Share your own stories and data comparisons on this blog. Subscribe to this blog feed, or follow #AkamaiHoliday and @Akamai on Twitter to stay in touch and learn about interesting trends we see as the holiday season unfolds.


Margaret Kuchler is Director Industry Marketing at Akamai.

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