Web traffic disappoints on 'Black Friday'

Overall Internet traffic growth was well below last year's even as bargain hunters tracked down sought-after toys and electronics.

eBay was the online winner this "Black Friday," data published on Saturday showed, but overall Internet traffic growth was well below last year's even as bargain hunters tracked down sought-after toys and electronics on the Web before "Cyber Monday."

Overall traffic to the Nielsen/Net Ratings Holiday eShopping Index, which tracks more than 120 online retailers, rose 12 percent on the Friday after Thankgiving over the same day last year, according to the online audience measurement firm.

That is significantly below the 29 percent growth in overall traffic to the index from 2004 to 2005 and more in line with 11 percent growth seen from 2003 to 2004.

eBay had the most Web traffic on "Black Friday," one of retail's busiest days, with 7.5 million unique visitors, according to the data.

Amazon.com was in second place, with 3.4 million unique visitors, followed by Wal-Mart Stores with 3.2 million. There is no way to determine what percentage of Internet users are actually making Web purchases.

The search for Mattel's T.M.X. Elmo, this season's most popular and hard-to-find toy, drove much of that online traffic in advance of "Cyber Monday," the unofficial start of the online holiday shopping season.

eBay reported that 2,537 T.M.X. Elmos were sold Friday for an average price of $70.10. The toy retails at Wal-Mart for $39.97 and can be found on Shopping.com for as much as $150.

Other popular items on eBay included Sony's PlayStation 3--14,675 have been sold on eBay for an average price of $1,186.39 from November 17 to November 24--and the Nintendo Wii. Since that product's November 19 debut, 26,708 have been sold for an average price of $412.53.

Shopping.com and Price Grabber.com, which allow consumers to compare deals from a variety of retailers, saw year-over-year jumps of 40 percent and 45 percent, respectively, in the volume of traffic on their sites.

But traffic does not necessarily translate into higher sales. As shipping becomes faster and more reliable, more Internet shoppers are waiting longer into December to make purchases, but are browsing the Web for good deals.

Wayne Best, a senior economist at Visa USA, said Internet-based sales on "Black Friday" fared worse than last year, which he attributed to fairly good weather across the country driving shoppers to malls.

"The overall sales were much softer in the nonstore retailers than what we've seen previously," he said.

Shopping.com Chief Executive Josh Silverman said the highest-growth categories in November so far were household goods and clothing, not electronics, which include hot items like plasma TVs and game consoles.

"Where three or four years ago it was younger males buying electronics, now more than half of our shoppers are women and the most popular categories online look a whole lot like the most popular categories offline," Silverman said.

Electronics saw 16 percent year-over-year growth for November to date.

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