Traditions Die Hard: Most Consumers Start Online Holiday Shopping at Amazon

Just as people eat turkey, stuffing and cranberry sauce on Thanksgiving, it’s becoming a tradition for consumers to go to one place to kick off their holiday shopping.

In a recent survey, more than half of U.S. consumers – 53 percent — said they would begin their shopping with Amazon.

In the proprietary survey conducted by Baird Equity Research, analyst Colin Sebastian said Google will be the second-most-popular initial destination (36 percent); eBay is the third (7 percent); and then it tapers off drastically from there, with Walmart.com in fourth place (2 percent).

Beyond tradition, there’s a good reason why consumers are drawn to the classics at this time of the year. Essentially, these sites are the shopping malls of the Internet, where just about anything can be found by plugging the name of a sought-after product — like the new Wii U or the Nexus 7 tablet — into a search box, and getting immediate results.

It’s worth noting that the “other” category in the survey totals 1 percent, which is fairly significant, since spending will hit $1 billion on big shopping days like Black Friday or Cyber Monday (the Friday and Monday after Thanksgiving). You can assume that a big portion of that will go toward nontraditional or boutique retailers, which aren’t focusing on search, but rather on curating a small inventory of products for people who may be having a hard time deciding what to buy. Some sites that do a really good job of this include the Daily Grommet, Fab.com, Groupon and OpenSky.

But, given that the bulk of the shopping starts with Amazon, Google and eBay, here’s a look at what each one brings to the dining-room table:

  1. Amazon: The retailer benefits from the act of “showrooming.” Roughly 30 percent of smartphone users in the survey said they always or frequently compare prices of products in retail stores using a mobile device, and 75 percent are comparing prices in stores. Data from comScore suggests that mobile shoppers tend to favor apps for Amazon and eBay versus apps from particular retailers. The takeaway is that even if some people might shop in person, they could end up buying online.
  2. Google Shopping: This year, Google has changed the way it accepts product feeds from retailers. Before, it was free, but now it is a paid experience. While retailers will have to budget for this change, they will be getting a lot for their money, including the ability to post large images — some in 3-D — that appear on the results page. Customers can easily sort across many sites (eBay, Wayfair, Newegg, etc.), looking for the retailer that has the best prices, free shipping and other features, like style, size or color. The results will not include Amazon’s products, however, as the company has declined to pay to play.
  3. eBay: Like Amazon, it’s mobile, mobile, mobile for both eBay and its PayPal subsidiary. For all the people who don’t want to get off the couch and fight the crowds at the mall, the company is listing a variety of Black Friday and Cyber Monday deals exclusively on its mobile applications. Those deals will not be found if consumers visit eBay online.
  4. Walmart.com: This holiday, the mega-offline-retailer wants to be more accessible online. It has started offering customers in four markets the chance to buy and receive items on the same day, for $10. It has launched “Walmart To Go” in Northern Virginia, Philadelphia and Minneapolis, and the San Jose-San Francisco area is coming in November. No minimum orders are required. EBay has done the same thing in San Francisco, and Sebastian found in his survey that 70 percent of consumers would be willing to pay $5 to $10 for the service.

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