This Christmas, record numbers of consumers are abandoning the high street in favour of staying at home to do their festive shopping via the web. With an
estimated £15bn expected to be spent online in the run-up to Christmas, brands have plenty at stake.
According to research commissioned by Marketing into this year's must-have web purchases, Nintendo is the clear winner. Figures from Hitwise show that Nintendo Wii was the product most sought-after by internet users last month, when there were twice as many search engine queries for 'Wii' than for Apple's iPhone or latest generation of iPod. Despite shortages of Nintendo Wiis in UK high-street stores, the volume of internet searches for the console increased by 158% year on year in the key pre-Christmas shopping season.
Meanwhile, a heavyweight promotional drive for the Nintendo DS helped make the handheld gaming device the second-most searched-for product in the shopping and classifieds category. Nintendo has extended the appeal of the DS to older consumers through its Brain Training games. A series of ads featuring celebrity duos playing games on the DS has boosted web searches for the device by 278% compared with this time last year. In contrast, Microsoft's Xbox 360 console trailed behind as the 10th-most searched-for Christmas gift.
Australian footwear brand Ugg was a surprise entry in the product searches Top 10, which is dominated by gadgets and children's toys. Despite running virtually no advertising in 2007, the fur-lined boots became the third-most searched-for product in November.
Lego led the toy brands, with shoppers going online to find out about its Bionicle range, which has been backed by pre-Christmas TV activity and a 14-week sponsorship deal with Jetix. Barbie placed surprisingly low after parent Mattel was forced to recall more than 20m products, including Barbie accessories that contained potentially dangerous levels of lead, earlier in the year.
Despite predictions that Apple's iPhone would be the must-have gadget this Christmas, the device ranked only sixth. Demand for the touch-screen handset, which includes an MP3 player and wireless web access, has been high, but consumers may have been put off by the hefty price tag and complications of switching mobile network.
Retailers have been working hard to tap into the online shopping frenzy, with a number of big brands offering money-off shopping vouchers in the run-up to Christmas. The publicity surrounding real and fake discounts helped the terms 'vouchers' to become one of the fastest-growing search terms sending traffic to retail websites. Traffic to the Thresher Group website shot up 240% in the week ending 24 November as its 40%-off voucher spread across the web. Meanwhile, traffic to the Selfridges site tripled due to its 20%-off voucher.
Amazon dominated in Hitwise's department store sites category with a 32% share of traffic. The ecommerce giant towered above second-placed Argos, which commanded 13% of traffic. The latter recently launched an integrated marketing drive illustrating how much easier it is to use its Christmas Gift Guide than visit the high-street stores.
For those brands languishing outside these charts, there is plenty they can do to boost performance. Robin Goad, director of research at Hitwise, says brands should start to devise ways to build web traffic from the outset. 'Brands can boost their popularity by integrating their online and offline marketing to drive traffic to their sites,' he says. 'The most successful brands will be those that harness the power of social networks including Facebook and MySpace.'_