It’s Thanksgiving, and IBM, via its Benchmark data service, is once again tracking how U.S. consumers are taking to the web to kick off holiday season shopping. Early indications are that this year once again shows growth, but less than in 2012. Overall, Thanksgiving online sales are up 9% over last year. On the same day in 2012, they were up by over 14%. The average value of an online order is down slightly, too. IBM says it is $132.13 so far for today; in 2012, it was $132.57.
IBM says its numbers come from tracking millions of transactions from 800 retailers online in real time.
IBM’s results indicate that newer platforms like mobile are getting ever more popular: mobile accounted for over 35% of all online traffic, up almost 30% compared to 2012. Mobile sales were over 22% of all online sales. It’s no surprise that mobile continues to grow: apart from the bigger trends that are seeing ever more people adopting smartphones and tablets, on Thanksgiving specifically, many people are together with friends and family, and often converging in living rooms and maybe in front of TVs or at parades or other events. That means less time at computers and more time turning to smaller and more portable screens to catch the latest deals showering down from cyberspace.
IBM’s data is bearing out a trend we’ve seen elsewhere that tablets, rather than smartphones, are driving more actual conversions to purchases. Smartphones today have so far driven 22% of all online traffic, IBM says, versus just 12.5% for tablets. But tablets have driven 13% of all sales online, 1.5 times the rate for handsets at 9%. The bigger screens of tablets are also driving more valuable orders — $125 versus $114.21 when items are purchased on smartphones.
In terms of platforms, iOS is trumping Android yet again when it comes to engagement. It may be losing to Android in overall marketshare globally, but when it comes to the U.S. market, iOS wins out for the most voracious consumers. IBM says iOS has seen more than three times the amount of sales that Android has — or 17% versus 5% of all online sales. iOS users spent $120.03 per order, IBM says, with Android at $114.19 (very close to the smartphone average basket value, in fact). iOS devices have accounted for 24% of all online shopping traffic so far; Android 10.5%.
Last year, IBM stirred up a bit of controversy when it noted that social networks were driving only 0.2% of online sales. This year, the numbers are a bit better: social networks so far are driving about 1% of sales, IBM tells me — “which is not to say social is not important, it has more of an indirect influence on sales — i.e. consumer perceptions of products, brands, customer experience, which influences purchasing,” a spokesperson tells me.
So far, Facebook is winning out over Pinterest in terms of driving more valuable purchases, at $108.41 per order compared to $102.61 per order for Pinterest. Facebook referrals converted sales at a 43% higher rate than Pinterest referrals, “perhaps indicating stronger confidence in network recommendations,” IBM notes.
IBM says that it will update again with fresh numbers in a few hours. Last year, sales crept up the whole day, and by midnight, they were up 17.4% over 2011, with an especially strong push for mobile commerce. Some 25.3% of consumers used mobile devices to visit retailers’ sites in 2012, up 66% over 2011. And 18.3% of consumers used a mobile device to buy goods, up 65% over 2011.
As for the bigger picture beyond Thanksgiving, Forrester Research has more optimistic predictions compared to the numbers coming from IBM today. It estimates that U.S. online holiday sales will reach $78.7 billion this year, up 15% over 2012′s $68.4 billion. Forrester predicts that 167 million shoppers will do their holiday shopping online, spending an average of $472 for the season. “Strong economic growth and low unemployment rates project a healthy playing field for online holiday sales and outweigh any lingering dampening effect of the government shutdown,” writes Forrester analyst Sucharita Mulpuru.
Update: IBM’s next number instalment from a 3pm Eastern reading indicates a slight rise in online sales, which are now up 9.4% on 2012. Mobile is also up slightly to 36%, as are mobile-based sales, now at 23% of all online sales. Smartphones are driving 23% of traffic, with tablets at 13%. Tablets rose slightly to 14% of all online sales; mobile handsets declined to 8.5%. Tablets average sales are also climbing up: $126.26 spent per order on average vs. smartphones at $113.19. The gap between iOS and Android in sales is also widening, 18% versus 5%. Same with sales, with iOS up to $121.46 per average order and Android down to $111.12. One-quarter of all e-commerce traffic is coming from iOS devices.
In social, Pinterest is now outpacing Facebook in terms of the value of referral traffic — I guess pinners just needed a little longer to wake up? Facebook referrals now average $108.19 per order, while Pinterest is averaging $110.38.
Update 2: More of the same, with sales now up 10% over last year and incremental increases across the rest of the metrics. The one notable change is back in “social influence” Facebook referrals are bringing in more shopping than Pinterest referrals, with Facebook driving $106.86 per order and Pinterest driving $102.79 per order. Facebook referrals are converting sales at a whopping 84% higher rate than Pinterest referrals (twice the rate from the original post).