Well, the trees are either out at the curb awaiting the recycler, or tucked away in boxes until next Thanksgiving, and we're all ready to move with gusto deeper into 2011. Before we do, let's take a quick look at this past holiday season, and what it meant for online merchants and eBay sellers.
To keep things in context, we spoke with many of the same folks who shared their holiday results with us a year ago. We also gathered some statistics, including input from eBay. Combining these ingredients will help us see what the last few months have meant in the world of e-commerce.
We'll start with statistics, and that means going to comScore, the center for measuring all things digital. According to the company, online shopping remained strong through Christmas, setting a new record for spending at almost $31 billion, a 13-percent increase over the 2009 holiday season.
eBay has also reported good numbers. "On the second Sunday of December, mobile shopping on eBay peaked globally on what we call 'Mobile Sunday,'" says Johnna Hoff, eBay's senior manager of Media Relations. Both comScore and eBay agree on which sectors of the market were especially strong.
According to comScore, the top earners year-over-year included computer hardware, up 23 percent; books and magazines, up 22 percent; and consumer electronics, up 21 percent. eBay reports strong sales for computer equipment, especially Apple iPads and MacBook Airs. eBay also reports strong mobile sales in the following categories: Clothing, Shoes & Accessories; Cell Phones & PDAs; Collectibles; Jewelry & Watches; and Toys & Hobbies.
Our sales and selling activity, questions, offers and shipping quotes are up
'Busiest holiday season ever'…
eBay sellers Herb and Martha Oberman, herwoldallas on eBay, are dealers of ephemera, specializing in menus. They agree 2010 was their busiest holiday season ever.
"eBay continues to be our most successful site," Herb Oberman tells us, "with sales continuing right through Dec. 23." The Obermans did change their selling strategy this year, completely eliminating auctions and listing their items as fixed-price with a "Best Offer" option. Overall, everything increased in volume for these two.
"Our sales and selling activity, questions, offers and shipping quotes are up," Oberman says. He speculates that having Christmas fall on a Saturday encouraged shoppers to continue buying farther into the week just before the holiday. When we asked what surprised him the most about his experience this holiday season, his response was very satisfying.
"It surpassed our expectations. In previous years our sales started to fall in the middle of the month. This year, our sales stayed strong," he says. "From our perspective, the collectibles market is improving." It's encouraging to learn that the Obermans enjoyed another successful holiday season.
… but not for everyone
Not all of the sellers we revisited this year were able to agree with this optimistic assessment. Jody Rogers and Asad Bangash, beachcombers! on eBay, started with an eBay business selling ethnic clothing and khussa shoes. They then branched out to selling on Amazon and their own Web site, and now they also operate a brick-and-mortar store.
"Our holiday season was about the same as last year," Rogers tells us. "Slightly up, but nowhere near the double-digit growth from a few years ago."
Here's how the earnings broke down across the venues these two operate in: eBay sales were down, Amazon was up and the Web site was flat. The brick-and-mortar store was slightly down, "which made it about a wash from last year," Rogers says.
They did try some new strategies this year. "We introduced a new product this holiday season that was well received: organic earrings," she says.
They also offered a coupon. "We're not a coupon-driven site, but we normally offer a nice coupon during the holiday season," she explains. "This year we offered one just before Thanksgiving, and another for the last few days of guaranteed holiday shopping. The coupons were more popular this year than in the past."
Rogers and Bangash also heavily promoted their "guaranteed holiday delivery," and found that to be a successful strategy, too. "Overall, this season felt very similar to last year," Rogers reports. "Shoppers were on a budget, and there was less shopping for themselves."
We asked her what she found most surprising about this holiday season. "No real surprises this year for October, November and December—but we had a killer September," she says. "September is normally a slow month for us, but this year it was fantastic. I didn't get the feeling that people were Christmas shopping early, but I suppose it's a possibility," she adds.
Things haven't slowed down one bit. I definitely have high hopes for 2011
A mixed bag
Stephanie Inge, stephintexas on eBay, an eBay educator and founder of eBay sellers' meet-up group The Dallas eBaybes & eMales, couldn't agree with the Obermans' enthusiasm, or even Rogers' assessment that the season was about the same as last.
"Holiday sales on eBay were way down compared to 2009," Inge tells us. "I didn't have as many listings, but the ones I did have didn't receive a lot of views or bids. Overall, sales were mediocre at best."
Inge has long been a creative and innovative eBay seller, and she's still doing her best to promote her work. "I always add a holiday theme to my listings and offer expedited shipping, free shipping on many items, and emphasize fast shipping via USPS Priority Mail," she says. "I promoted all my listings on Facebook, and it did help somewhat."
Though her eBay results were a letdown, Inge had a great season on Amazon that continued even after the holiday had passed. "My Amazon sales are doing insanely well," she reports. When we contacted her on Dec. 29, she told us: "I sold 129 items on Amazon in the last 36 hours, and this is supposed to be a slow time of year for sales!"
Fellow Auctiva writer Miriam Otto also operates in the Clothing, Shoes & Accessories category as the Top-rated Seller behind the eBay Store Blue Frog Shoes. Otto, like Inge, is an eBay educator. She reports having a fabulous year in 2010, and a superlative holiday season.
"Over the last six months, my average sales price per item has steadily increased," Otto tells us. "My December sales were almost double compared to December 2009. People were buying Christmas gifts, and gifts for themselves." Otto adds that sales have remained very strong. "And things haven't slowed down one bit in the new year," she happily reports. "I definitely have high hopes for 2011!"
So, overall, we've found some good, some about the same and a little bit of disappointment, too. Considering the nearly unrelenting bad economic news, this holiday season seems to have been better than anticipated for e-commerce, but still not what we might all hope it to be.
We are still hopeful that the new year will find all of us enjoying a far more prosperous and enthusiastic holiday season next time around. Here's to a stellar 2011!