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A funny thing happened on the Internet

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A lack of disclosure among retailers regarding their online operations makes it challenging to understand what went on online this past holiday season. While comScore reported it was a record year from a sales perspective with November and December sales advancing 12% to $32.6 billion, data from the online measurement firm also showed that most major retailers saw fewer unique visitors to their websites in December 2010 than during the same month the prior year.

The number of unique visitors to Target.com declined 11% to 37.3 million in December 2010 compared to 41.8 million in December 2009. Walmart.com, the second most heavily trafficked site behind Amazon.com, saw its number of unique visitors drop 5% to 51.4 million while Best Buy dropped 1% to 29.3 million, Sears fell 21% to 18.4 million and Kohl’s declined 1% to 14 million. Amazon.com increased 6% to 91.1 million.

The year-over-year decline in unique visitors is not as alarming as it appears at first blush due to the fact that shopper conversion rates are said to be higher. The consulting firm Kantar Retail conducts a monthly survey branded as ShopperScape and its data shows that almost across the board the percentage of people who visited a retailer’s site and also made a purchase is well above the prior year. For example, Kantar’s data shows that 31% of those who visited Target.com in December made a purchase compared to 23% the prior year. That’s not as good as it sounds. The benchmark when it comes to conversion is Amazon.com with 80% of those who visit its site making a purchase and Walmart and Kohl’s both enjoy a 46% rate.