Disturbing data points cause for holiday sales concern

Interesting data points emerged this week that offer potential insight into Walmart’s holiday sales, as Kantar Retail and comScore released reports showing that when compared with the prior year Walmart was less of a destination for gifts and its Web traffic had declined.

According to Kantar’s monthly ShopperScape data for December, significantly fewer shoppers reported shopping at Walmart for gifts in 2010 vs. 2009. Walmart remained the top destination this past December with 56% of holiday shoppers going to its stores, but that was a 2.4% decline from the prior year when the figure was 59%. Walmart had a lot of company as most other retailers experienced a decline in their shopper base. Retailers such as Target, Kohl’s, JCPenney, Toys“R”Us and Kmart held relatively steady.

“This signal that despite the generally positive trends related to spending intention and retail sales growth, shoppers are still being deliberate about store choice and reining in the number of stores in their store sets,” according to Kantar.

Meanwhile, in the online world, which is where comScore offers is measurement service, December traffic was down at Walmart.com and numerous other retailers. Walmart.com is the second most heavily trafficked site behind Amazon.com, but in December, the number of unique visitors dropped 5% to 51.4 million, according to comScore. Target’s traffic declined 11% to 37.3 million, Best Buy dropped 1% to 29.3 million and Sears fell 21% to 18.4 million.

In case you are wondering how the decline in online traffic jives with earlier reports from comScore that online sales hit a record level this past holiday season -- the firm said November and December sales increased 12% to $32.6 billion -- it has everything to do with conversion rates. There may have been fewer people going to some of the larger retailers’ sites, but they apparently knew what they wanted and retailers were more effective at closing the sale.

In Walmart’s case, 46% of those who shopped its site during the holidays made a purchase compared to 34% the prior year, according to Kantar’s ShopperScape data, which includes a sample size of 2,124 people who made an online purchase. Higher conversion rates likely offset the traffic decline, but comScore doesn’t offer individual retailers’ sales and Walmart doesn’t publicly disclose. Virtually every top retailer tracked by Kantar experienced an improved conversion rate during the holidays.

Topping the conversation rate list and the unique visitor ranking was Amazon.com. It’s conversion rate was 80% compared to 72% the prior year and its shopper base grew to 40% from 38%, according to Kantar’s ShopperScape data. Amazon’s unique visitors increased 6% to 91.1 million, according to comScore. Those positive metrics translated to record sales and profits as Amazon on Thursday said fourth-quarter sales increased 36% to nearly $13 billion and profits increased 8% to $416 million. 


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