is Fueling a Strong December for Online Retailers

Whether you’re an analyst, economist or a just a red-blooded American consumer, your eyes are probably fixed right now on the retail industry. We’re all looking for a glimmer of hope that consumer spending during the holidays will survive the credit crunch, sputtering equity markets and corporate downsizing. And now that we’re officially half-way through the holiday retail season, what better time to see how retailers are faring online this year. Specifically, are online retailers ahead of or behind last year’s pace?

For this analysis, we’ll focus on a single metric: daily unique visitors to individual online retailing sites. This helps to isolate the impact of fewer available shopping days between Thanksgiving and Christmas this year. Clearly, to get a more holistic picture you need to understand additional metrics such as order size and the impact of promotions on margins. Regardless of these two inputs, however, getting shoppers into your online store is a supremely important first step.

The graph above shows total unduplicated daily visitors to a group of ten retailers that Compete monitors as a harbinger for the rest of the retail industry. The blue area represents performance in 2007, and the red overlay charts this year’s performance looking back to November 1. The data show that, as a group, these sites are ahead of last year in terms of driving people to shop their online stores. So the mix of promotional strategies that online retailers are using to lure shoppers in appears to be working.

This market level view is a great proxy for the performance of the industry at large, but yesterday’s post shows that the fate and fortunes of individual retailers can vary widely — even those within the same retail category.

So how is the mother of online retailing,, performing so far this season? The chart above highlights Amazon’s unique visitor traffic and shows that things seem to be going quite well. This chart graphs the accumulated daily shoppers at Amazon, overlaying season-to-date results for this year against 2007 actual performance. Specifically, the chart shows that Amazon is capturing more shoppers this year than it did last year; this is based on increased online shopping among consumers in general, as well as a battery of promotions from the company to spur sales. And the best part of the story for Amazon is that the daily spread is increasing — meaning that Amazon’s performance is actually accelerating compared to the same period last year.

So there might be good news for retailers, the economy, and us consumers after all. If online retail trends continue in a positive direction — and yesterday’s Citigroup note corroborates our positive findings, consumer spending this holiday season may actually be bucking some of the other negative forces in the market. And that would be a great holiday gift"¦