Holiday Shoppers Are Filling Their Carts, Online

Dec 2, 2014
Originally published on December 2, 2014 6:45 pm

This weekend, Will Falls decided to skip the local mall near Raleigh, N.C., and shop online instead.

"No standing in line, no finding a parking spot," he says. "Just get comfortable and go at it."

Millions of Americans did the same — Falls helped contribute to an 8.5 percent increase in online shopping Monday compared with 2013, according to data from IBM.

That growth stands in contrast to an 11 percent drop in sales reported by the National Retail Federation at brick-and-mortar stores over the Black Friday weekend compared with a year ago.

"I definitely believe there is cannibalization occurring from the perspective of online against the stores," says Bob Drbul, an analyst and managing director at Nomura Securities.

Of course, some of that cannibalization is going to the retailers' own online arms, he notes.

As for how consumers shopped online, most used desktop computers, which accounted for three-quarters of online sales — though the use of mobile devices rose sharply.

Another reason for the drop in in-store shopping this past weekend, Durbl says, is that retailers spread their Black Friday sales across the whole month of November.

Elle Phillips, a graphic designer from near Boise, Idaho, had family members visiting for Thanksgiving this past weekend. They took very different approaches to their holiday purchases, she says.

"They wanted to go Black Friday shopping," says Phillips, 37. "I prefer to avoid it at all costs."

Her brother-in-law headed for the hunting and camping retailer Cabela's at 4 a.m., Phillips says. He came back six hours later, with tales of a checkout line stretching to the back of the huge store.

"It literally took him two hours just to get through to the register with a couple of hoodie sweaters," Phillips says. "So that just sort of ... verified the reason why I don't go out on Black Friday."

Phillips, meanwhile, did her shopping online, including finding some new Doc Marten boots for her husband. She looked first for the best price on Amazon, "and then I actually went straight to the manufacturer's website ... and I found an equally good price there, all with free shipping."

That kind of price shopping and free shipping is forcing profit margins down for retailers, says analyst Drbul. But he expects a strong holiday season nevertheless.

A big reason is that falling gas prices are putting more money in consumers' pockets.

This year, Drbul says, "has the potential to be the best retail performance since 2011."

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Transcript

MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:

The people who track holiday shopping patterns are trying to figure out what all the latest numbers mean. Online sales rose sharply yesterday, also known as Cyber Monday, but sales at brick-and-mortar stores during the Black Friday weekend were down compared to last year. NPR's John Ydstie has more on our changing shopping strategies.

JOHN YDSTIE, BYLINE: This weekend, Will Falls, who lives near Raleigh, North Carolina, decided to skip the mall and shop online instead. He says it's just so much easier.

WILL FALLS: No standing in line. No finding a parking spot. You know, just get comfortable and go at it.

YDSTIE: Falls helped contribute to an 8.5 percent increase in online shopping yesterday compared to a year ago. The use of mobile devices rose sharply. Though, desktop computers still accounted for three-quarters of online sales. The growth in online contrasts to an 11 percent drop-off in sales at brick-and-mortar stores last weekend.

BOB DRBUL: I definitely believe, like, there is cannibalization occurring, you know, from the perspective of online against the stores.

YDSTIE: Bob Drbul is an analyst and managing director at Nomura Securities. Of course, he says, some of that cannibalization is going to the retailer's own online arm. Drbul says another reason for the drop in in-store shopping this past weekend is that retailers are spreading their Black Friday sales across the whole month of November.

Elle Phillips, a 37-year-old graphic designer from near Boise, Idaho, says her family was visiting for Thanksgiving this past weekend.

ELLE PHILLIPS: And they wanted to go Black Friday shopping. I prefer to avoid it at all costs.

YDSTIE: Her brother-in-law headed for Cabela's, the big hunting and camping store, at 4 a.m.. He came back six hours later with tales of a checkout line stretching to the back of the huge store.

PHILLIPS: It literally took him two hours just to get through to the register with, you know, a couple of hoodie sweaters. So that just sort of - I don't know - verified the reason why I don't go out on Black Friday.

YDSTIE: Meanwhile, Phillips did her shopping online, including finding some new boots for her husband.

PHILLIPS: I look for those boots on Amazon, find out what the best price on there is, and then I actually went straight to the manufacturer's website, which in this case was Doc Martens, and I found an equally good price there - all with free shipping.

YDSTIE: That kind of price shopping and free shipping is forcing profit margins down for retailers, says Bob Drbul. But he expects a strong holiday season nevertheless.

DRBUL: This has the potential to be the best retail performance since 2011.

YDSTIE: A big reason is that falling gas prices are putting more money in consumers' pocket. John Ydstie, NPR News, Washington. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.