Could Google Be This Year’s Holiday Retail Winner?

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UPDATE, December 17, 2013, 1:10 p.m. — As we noted in our story on online sales earlier Tuesday morning, Google’s Product Listing Ads and Google Shopping have shown the largest percentage growth of any online shopping programs this year. Same-store sales growth at Google Shopping is up 127% year-over-year, although from a very small base.Whether that growth will be enough to move the needle significantly on the company’s revenues, estimated at $16.71 billion for the quarter, and profits, estimated at $12.22 per share, remains to be seen. But assuming that the company drove some revenue with its Product Listing ads last year, the higher value of those ads and the higher prices Google can charge for them could add a meaningful amount to the current estimates.


As we come down to the final week of shopping before Christmas, the single most consistent message we see is that online sales are holding up while brick-and-mortar stores are facing a bit of a slowdown. The shortened shopping season this year has pulled a lot of sales forward, but there could be plenty of last-minute action as it occurs to consumers that it is now or never.

According to research firm ChannelAdvisor, comparisons with last year’s sales at online giants Inc. (NASDAQ: AMZN) and eBay Inc. (NASDAQ: EBAY) are running well ahead of last year. For the holiday shopping season to date (Thanksgiving Day plus the next 18 days), sales at Amazon are up 39% year-over-year, and almost 21% at eBay. Online shopping traffic has increased nearly 64% from computer users, 16% from tablet users and more than 20% from smartphone users.

Online sales are up 76% from desktop and laptop users and 24% from mobile device users. Mobile traffic now accounts for more than 36% of all online traffic, and that percentage has been very stable throughout the holiday shopping season to date.

Google Inc. (NASDAQ: GOOG) has also scored heavily this holiday season with its Product Listing Ads, those illustrated ads that are displayed at the top of a search results page. In the holiday period measured by ChannelAdvisor, Google Shopping ad traffic is up 127%, although that is based on a very low comparison from last year.

Even traditional brick-and-mortar retailers like Wal-Mart Stores Inc. (NYSE: WMT) continue to hit the online promotional market hard. The company launched a new series of online promotions Monday that the store called “Gold Monday.” Discounts on some products are running as high as 40%.

The catch for online shopping is shipping. Most orders will have to be placed in the next three or four days in order to reach buyers in time for Christmas. Amazon is offering one-day shipping for orders placed on December 23 in some of its Local Express Delivery cities, and eBay is offering a similar service called eBay Now.

For brick-and-mortar stores, last week’s snowstorm in the northeast U.S. might have pushed some consumers to wait until this weekend to go out to the malls. Because about half of all Christmas shopping is completed in the final week of the season, bad weather now could be a very big problem.