Online shoppers jump the gun seeking bargains

01 Dic Online shoppers jump the gun seeking bargains

San Francisco Chronicle, By Deborah Gage, December 1, 2008
Online merchants are prepared for an onslaught of shoppers Monday, though no one is sure how many people will turn up or how much they’ll actually spend. Traditionally, the Monday after Thanksgiving – dubbed Cyber Monday by the National Retail Federation because people browse the Web at work after spending the weekend at the malls – has been the biggest online shopping day of the year. Last year, Cyber Monday set a record with $733 million in sales, the first time a single day of online retail spending surpassed $700 million, according to ComScore. But that is changing as the economy languishes and people get more clever about how they use the Web. Shoppers are going online to hunt for bargains, and this year they didn’t wait for the holiday season to start. Google recorded spikes around searches for terms like discount, coupons, consignment and “buy one get one free” as early as the first week in October. Searches for the latter term, for instance, are up 200 percent since last year. “I’ve not seen these things before,” said John McAteer, Google’s director of retail, who’s been at his job for five years. “The way (people) are searching and what they’re looking for has changed.” Retailers didn’t wait for the holiday season, either, to lure customers with holiday discounts and promotions. Some of these also started as early as October, and they are more targeted than they were last year. Hewlett-Packard and Sears, for example, are using new advertising software from Tumri, a venture-funded startup in Mountain View, to offer ads that can change depending on who’s looking at them, what Web site they’re on, what product is being offered, what region is being targeted or what time period the ad is covering. Because Tumri’s software allows ads to be assembled quickly, stores are running multiple sales that last only a few days and can change depending on what’s selling well. Anybody who clicks on these ads is taken directly to the item that’s being offered so they can buy right away. These retailers “want to make sure that for every dollar they spend, they’re getting the most yield possible,” said Calvin Lui, Tumri’s president and CEO. EBay is promoting only bargain items this holiday season, in contrast to last year when it pushed the best holiday gifts, said Jim Griffith, eBay’s marketplace expert. The auction site is promoting sellers willing to start bids for their items at $1 and is offering daily promotions for “$1 holiday doorbusters” that are only available in quantities of 50. Since last week, eBay has been hiding one high-ticket item on its site each day – a 65-inch plasma TV, a Kawasaki Jet Ski – that sells for $1 to the first person who finds it. “We’ve never done anything like this before,” Griffith said. “It’s too early to talk about the results, but you can be darn sure we’re watching it carefully.” Traffic has been drifting down at eBay this year, according to Quantcast, and comScore last week reported an unprecedented 4 percent decline in the amount of money spent online in November. But another metric, the Cyber Holiday Pulse Index from Chase Paymentech, shows online sales and transactions in November increasing.