High Web traffic means sales

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High Web traffic means sales

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Web traffic patterns

These retailers showed the heaviest traffic between their Web sites and shipping company Web sites at UPS, DHL and FedEx, Hitwise analyst Bill Tancer said.

WalMart.com, Amazon, eBay among beneficiaries

SAN FRANCISCO, California (Reuters) -- Winners in the holiday online shopping race appear to be Wal-Mart, Amazon and Apple Computer, which are doing the best job of turning browsers into buyers, according to an analysis of Web traffic patterns.

According to data compiled by Internet measurement firm Hitwise for Reuters, these three sites, along with perennial e-commerce leader eBay Inc., seem to be having the most success converting online window-shopping forays into real purchases.

These retailers showed the heaviest traffic between their Web sites and shipping company Web sites at UPS, DHL and FedEx, Hitwise analyst Bill Tancer said.

Data on actual sales at the height of the holiday season are hard to come by, as retailers hold off reporting their results until early January. However, the clues into whether retailers' Web sites are converting their raw traffic into shipments can be a good indication.

"Looking at things like shipping are great proxies for how much people are buying," Tancer said.

The Hitwise data also indicated that retailers such as Target Corp. and Best Buy Co. may be coming up short in terms of converting traffic into Web sales. It was not clear, however, if this was due to some other dynamic -- whether shoppers were simply looking at products online that they would later buy in stores, for example.

In a week where Internet traffic peaks, to ensure timely deliveries, the ability to sell merchandise online can make or break a retailer.

Different shippers have different leaders
WalMart.com ranked No. 1 in terms of traffic between its site and the United Parcel Service site, ahead of eBay at No. 2 and well ahead of Amazon at No. 10, according to data through December 10 from Hitwise.

On DHL, the figures are somewhat inverted as WalMart.com ranks No. 8, with Amazon at No. 2 behind eBay.

"We are very pleased with how the holiday is going for us so far. It is the best we have had in our history," said Raul Vazquez, vice president of marketing for WalMart.com, referring to the five years since the parent company set WalMart.com free to compete as a Web retailer.

Meanwhile, customers leaving the BestBuy.com site are not heading to shipping sites in significant numbers, downstream traffic data show. This could be a measure of online sales weakness, mechanical differences in where Best Buy's site directs customers for shipments, or even just the preference of its customers to buy in stores rather than online.

"BestBuy.com shows a stronger indication that it is being used as a research tool" to check prices before visiting the company's stores, Tancer said. Traffic from BestBuy is especially heavy to in-store promotional advertisements.

Spokesmen for Best Buy and Target did not return calls seeking comment.

Online shopping is expected to grow 24 percent this holiday season over 2004, according to Kurt Peters, editor at Internet Retailer magazine (http://www.internetretailer.com/).

Traffic to online shopping sites is up only 9 percent this year over last year, Hitwise's Tancer said, but Web sites have become more efficient at converting window shoppers into buyers this year.

For the six weeks ending December 9, online sales totaled around $12.75 billion, up 23 percent from a year ago, according to comScore Networks, another Web measurement firm.

Overall, sales at U.S. retailers -- online and in stores -- during the holiday season are expected to increase 5 percent to 7 percent this year.

Digital holiday

WalMart.com, the Web counterpart to Wal-Mart Stores Inc., ranks as the No. 2 Web department store behind Amazon.com, according to Hitwise, which tracks the online behavior of 10 million U.S. Web surfers. WalMart.com offers 1 million products, 10 times that of a Wal-Mart store.

The site's hottest product is MobiBLU, a 512-megabyte digital music player, radio and alarm clock no bigger than a coin and priced at $99. WalMart.com sells it exclusively.

"It is a digital holiday," Vazquez said. "Consumers are really responding to all things electronic," he said.

Ken Cassar, an analyst with Nielsen//NetRatings, said online sales data through December 4 showed a tremendous jump in the books, music and video category, which grew 238 percent, or seven times the next fastest growing category -- apparel.

"The one site that is driving the greatest growth is iTunes," he said of Apple Computer Inc.'s music store, which gives consumers near-instant gratification by allowing them to download songs or gift cards for future purchases.

The NetRatings data counts shopping trips to 100 representative online retailers in 10 shopping categories.

Hitwise data confirms that half -- 49.5 percent -- of U.S. Web searches for the term "iPod" are going to Apple Web sites. The next nearest online retailers to be benefiting from the iPod craze are CircuitCity.com, which drew 6.7 percent of iPod searchers and BestBuy, which attracted 4.2 percent.



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