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online shopping

Maybe you’ve heard that the holiday shopping season is dramatically changing shape. OK, everybody’s heard that the holiday shopping season is dramatically changing shape. The shopping is starting earlier ; the sales and promotions are going later, mobile browsing and purchases are adding a significant new wrinkle and old standbys — like Thanksgiving, Black Friday and Cyber Monday — are being disrupted and in some cases devalued. Key takeaways

  • The holiday shopping season is stretching out, starting earlier with promotions lasting longer, but that doesn't mean it's just more of the same when it comes to consumers.

  • Veterans Day has become a powerful digital shopping day, giving Black Friday a run for its money.

  • All days in the pre-Black Friday shopping season are not created equal: Some are buying days and some are browsing days.

All of which is good to know, but the important work is drilling down to understand some of the subtleties that come along with the change in the way consumers are going about their business. Yes, the holiday shopping period is expanding, but it is not necessarily more of the same. It turns out, for instance, that Veterans Day is the new Black Friday. In fact, the number of online purchases on Nov. 11 is virtually the same as those on Thanksgiving and comes within 15 percent of Black Friday’s total, BloomReach data shows. (Nov. 11 is also celebrated as “Singles’ Day” in China. It’s unclear whether that’s a factor in U.S. online commerce.) More importantly, the day marks the beginning of a period during which consumers get significantly more serious about holiday shopping — with an emphasis on “shopping” as opposed to “buying.” While one year does not a trend make, BloomReach data indicates that holiday shoppers are in no hurry during the period from Veterans Day through Thanksgiving. While visits to online retailers were up 14 percent this year over last year, a key metric shows that the timeframe included a significant number of “browse” days, when digital consumers were essentially window shopping. “I think people don’t feel panicked to make the purchase, because if they don’t get this one, there will be another one next week,” Lauren Freedman, founder of the Chicago-based e-tailing group, said of shoppers’ early reticence to buy. “I think consumers really realize that there are promotions all year round.” BloomReach created the chart below by tracking the ratio of products viewed by consumers to purchases made on a given day. On average, in November, consumers looked at 54 products for each sale recorded. The valleys below the chart’s red line represent days in which it took fewer than 54 product views to result in a conversion. Those are “buy days.” The peaks above the red line are days on which it required more than 54 product views for each conversion. Those are “browse days.” browse days vs buy days You can see, for instance, that Veterans Day is a buy day. Shoppers viewed an average of 22 products per purchase. Conversely, Nov. 3, a day on which consumers viewed 80 products for each conversion, was a browse day. Overall, the data indicates that the middle of November might well be a time when consumers are testing the holiday shopping waters, looking for deals, seeking inspiration and plotting strategy. It’s possible that retailers have conditioned consumers to be skeptical of killer deals on product prices and shipping costs early in the holiday season by regularly extending or even improving sale prices and shipping promotions as the weeks wear on. None of that means there aren’t days in mid-November — Veterans Day, as we’ve established, and the Monday before Thanksgiving — on which consumers shop with a strong intent to buy. While Veterans Day has been evolving into a day to shop for years (a trend that is disheartening to some given its solemn meaning), the Monday before Thanksgiving (Manic Monday, anyone? Magic Monday?) is obviously part of some different phenomenon. Mike Baumgarten, marketing manager at Custora , a predictive marketing company, says his firm in years past has spotted the Monday trend during the holiday season. “There are some big peaks on the Mondays following Cyber Monday, especially,” he says. “It’s almost like a (rising) curve over the past couple of years for Monday. Then it will go down a bit for the weekend and peak back up again for Monday.” It’s possible that consumers research purchases on the weekend — looking online, browsing in physical stores — and pull the trigger on Monday. Or it could be that some find retail therapy a good way to ease back into the work week. Or it could be none of the above. If nothing else, the Monday peaks that Custora has seen are a sign that consumers are going to shop when they want and where they want — and in so doing, reshape the look of the holiday season. Graphic data source: BloomReach. Keyboard credit card photo by Jorge Franganillo published under Creative Commons license. Mike Cassidy is BloomReach’s storyteller. Contact him at mike.cassidy@bloomreach.com ; follow him on Twitter at @mikecassidy.