Just days away from Thanksgiving, it seems like the spirit of holiday shopping has been forced upon consumers even earlier this year. Sure, you could go to the mall and shop amidst a slew of other people while trying to block out annoying versions of holiday songs. Or you could stay at home and shop online. Both can be cost efficient, but one may seem less like a chore.
A recent report by comScore reveals that spending on retail e-commerce in October 2008 was up 1 percent over October 2007—last month showing a six-month run of decreasing growth rates.
Yet, although more consumers might be spending more money online, it doesn't mean that they're spending more money overall. According to the Neilsen Holiday Expectation Survey of 21,000 households, more than one-third of respondents plan to cut their holiday spending this year.
Though most major retailers wait until the beginning of November to put up any holiday decorations, some made sure they got the word out on their merchandise even earlier this year. Some holiday advertisements, like one for the annual "Radio City Christmas Spectacular" ran as early as September. And of course, retailers have been making sure sales are abundant both off and online.
And while consumers can plow through the shelves and racks of items at their nearest stores looking for bargains, being a mall rat is out. Online shopping is in. And don't forget Cyber Monday, a single day when shopping websites offer tremendous sales to draw in customers.
The National Retail Federation predicts a 2.2 percent increase for stores in November and December, but Forrester Research says online retail sales will grow around 12 percent.
Since the launch of online retailers like Amazon.com, consumers are becoming increasingly comfortable with the idea of online shopping. BagBorroworSteal.com, which lets consumers rent designer jewelry and handbags, offers consumers the option to rent a luxury handbag that normally costs a few thousand dollars for less than a hundred. Overstock.com, another popular shopping site, refers to itself as an online outlet mall. Newegg.com, a site that offers consumers more than 25,000 tech products, is known for low prices and very fast shipping.
Due to the overabundance of e-commerce sites, some consumers look at online bargain hunting as more of a game than anything else.
Mike, an assistant treasurer at a bank in New York City is one of these people. An online bargain hunter since about 1998, Mike currently does 95 percent of his shopping online and even helps others find great deals on things.
On more than on occasion, Mike has built a computer on Dell's website, found a coupon code and then given the link to the person who requested the help—basically doing the setup process for the requester. All that's left for the requester is to pay.
So why do people ask Mike for bargain hunting advice?
Mike enjoys the thrill of the hunt. Often he visits Slickdeals.net up to 20 times a day, using his iPhone on his way to work or when he logs in on his work computer. He says that the time he spends viewing is equivalent to those that often check the weather because he just "glances" at the site throughout the day. According to him, the site is very much "hit or miss"—sometimes things that go out of stock one minute are back up for sale a few hours later, because the inventory didn't really run out, so he has to keep returning to the site.
Since the economic downturn began, Mike says he hasn't really slowed down his online shopping, but has noticed an increase in sales lately.
In addition to the numerous online sales, and bargain and coupon sites, there are a variety of ways to pay online. For example, TrialPay, which offers consumers a special deal during the checkout process.
TrialPay, which currently has 12 million registered users, 6,000 merchants and 2,000 advertisers, works like this. A customer is on the Fandango website and looking through the list of showtimes for various movies at their nearby theatre. On a bar up above there's an offer that asks if they want a free movie. After clicking on it, a new window opens letting them see offers from companies such as Netflix or Blockbuster that will give them free tickets. Fandango gets more money, the company with the offer gets a new customer and the ticket purchaser has just gotten a great deal.
Alex Rampell, co-founder and CEO of TrialPay, owned a consumer focused software company years ago and learned what sort of promotions didn't work well, such as discount coupons for online shopping. Statistics have shown that about 60 percent of shopping carts are abandoned during the checkout process so retailers really needed to entice shoppers to continue. That's where TrialPay came in.
"You shouldn't sell your own product," Rampell says, adding that while running his first company, he found that consumers were interested in paying for one thing and wanting to get something extra.
WinZip, a site that sells products that are used by more than 150 million people, has had a relationship with TrialPay since July 2006. According to WinZip's Vice President of eCommerce and Marketing Craig Kallin, TrialPay is a "very clever implementation of an affiliate program and a great way to find a new customer."
Although WinZip is facing a small slowdown during the economic downturn, as are most other American companies lately, WinZip is experiencing less of a slowdown of TrialPay users compared with other types of transactions (PayPal and regular credit card payments), Kallin says.
The majority of consumers will always be looking for bargains when shopping. Especially during a recession. Especially during the holiday season. Even if the Grinch seems to be lurking this year, finding the perfect gift within your price range isn't impossible, especially with the hundreds of bargain and coupon websites at your fingertips.