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12/8/2006
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Click-Savvy Shoppers Chase Online Bargains

On days Overstock.com, Macy's, and Amazon ran on-line promotions for limited quantities of heavily discounted products, the same shoppers returned to the sites numerous times, attempting to catch the bargains.

The behavior of online shoppers this holiday season has taken a big step toward mimicking that of brick-and-mortar customers, according to JupiterResearch analyst Patricia Freeman Evans.

In looking at traffic data at a few of the big retail sites during the week of Thanksgiving, Evans found a large number of on-line consumers acting like off-line buyers, but in a cyber-way. "This is a significant development this year," Evans said. "We always knew it was happening, but this time it happened big time."

On the days Overstock.com, Macys.com and Amazon.com ran promotions for limited quantities of heavily discounted products, the same shoppers returned to the sites over and over again in an attempt to be one of the lucky buyers, Evans noted. "It's basically the same behavior as waiting in the parking lot for off-line sales," she said.

To handle the cyber-crowd, Amazon.com adopted a tactic similar to that of off-line retailers, who hand out numbers to people waiting in line, so they can return when the store opens to get a promotional item. Amazon.com placed would-be buyers in a virtual bucket, and randomly selected the winners, emailing them coupons to buy the products.

Just like brick-and-mortar retailers surprised by the size of the annual turnout for heavily discounted items on the day after Thanksgiving, the on-line operations also got more shoppers than anticipated, causing some slowdown issues. The reason is no upper executive in a company with a relatively mature online retail channel would approve spending the money to plan for as much as an eight-fold increase in traffic, Evans said. Such a scenario would have been too difficult to imagine before the Thanksgiving holiday.

Of the half dozen vendors Evans looked at, Wal-Mart experienced the biggest spike in traffic, which occurred on Thanksgiving Day. Because there was a large number of unique visitors, the traffic burst was probably due to people preparing for shopping the next day, Evans said. "It speaks to how much consumers are using online to research their offline shopping expectations," she said.

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