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The Online Sellers Guide to Key Holiday Shopping Dates

In today’s guest column, Margaret Kuchler, Director of Industry Marketing at Akamai Technologies, says studying 2012 online holiday shopping traffic can help merchants understand what to expect in 2013.

The best way to anticipate holiday web traffic for the upcoming major shopping season is to take a look back at last year’s data. Akamai powers 96 of the top 100 online retailers, so we have a good understanding of web traffic trends. We track all of our customers’ traffic regularly, and the public can also do so by visiting our real-time Net Usage Index.

In 2012, website traffic in early November averaged between 2 to 3 million views per minute. As the Thanksgiving holiday neared closer, the traffic climbed to 4 or 5 million views per minute.

By Thanksgiving last year, online shopping peaked at around 9 p.m. ET with nearly 7.6 million page views per minute, suggesting that many consumers didn’t wait for Black Friday to begin their holiday shopping.

As can be expected, Black Friday drove 25% more average traffic throughout the day than Thanksgiving, but shared a similar peak of more than 7.5 million page views per minute at 11 a.m. ET. Unlike Thanksgiving, when shoppers flocked to the web later in the night, with full bellies, the majority of shoppers got an early start (from home) on Black Friday.

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 mobile shopping as consumers search for coupon and savings sites on-the-go, in-store, or just out of arm’s reach of their desktops and laptops. In fact, the hours 9 and 10 p.m. ET are a popular time for peak traffic in the days leading up to the holidays, which would lead us to believe that many East Coast consumers are browsing just before they head off to 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.

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. With a later Thanksgiving and an earlier Hanukkah this year that coincides directly with Black Friday and Cyber Monday, we had been expecting and are now seeing an earlier start to the holiday season, as retailers open up deals and promotions starting now.

This year’s holiday season is also shorter than usual, so it will be a more condensed period of peak shopping that could fuel more online spending as people may have less time to shop in brick and mortar stores. 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 5.2 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.

If you’re interested in watching the traffic as it unfolds this holiday season, visit Akamai’s Net Usage Index.

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Ina Steiner
Ina Steiner
Ina Steiner is co-founder and Editor of EcommerceBytes and has been reporting on ecommerce since 1999. She's a widely cited authority on marketplace selling and is author of "Turn eBay Data Into Dollars" (McGraw-Hill 2006). Her blog was featured in the book, "Blogging Heroes" (Wiley 2008). She is a member of the Online News Association (Sep 2005 - present) and Investigative Reporters and Editors (Mar 2006 - present). Follow her on Twitter at @ecommercebytes and send news tips to ina@ecommercebytes.com. See disclosure at EcommerceBytes.com/disclosure/.