For the first 36 days of the November-December Holiday Season*, comScore reports online holiday sales up 4% year over year, with last week's sales up 5% year over year. Better yet, historical buying behavior dictates that the most important shopping weeks are yet to come; during the last few years, the three weeks prior to Christmas represented approximately 45% of total online holiday sales.

Our posts this week have focused primarily on retailers' considerable opportunities in e-commerce sales during the final weeks of the Holiday Season, but it's also worth noting an additional avenue for success among those merchants whose sales span across channels.The increasing frequency with which consumers are researching online before purchasing offline offers additional possibilities for stimulating sales in physical stores through the use of web-based marketing and promotions.

Using Google Insights for Search to do a year over year analysis of search volume for terms such as “store locator”, “store locations” and “printable coupons”, we can see that consumer interest in conducting web research prior to making an in-store purchase is growing rapidly. The visual below also depicts two periods in which annual demand for information about physical stores typically peaks - the first occurs over Thanksgiving Weekend and the second during those days immediately preceding Christmas.

Given both that search volume for the term "store locator" over Thanksgiving Weekend 2009 increased by 342% when compared to the same period in 2007, and that the second expected surge in demand (occurring just before Christmas) has historically been even more dramatic then the first, retailers will want to ensure that they are well-prepared; regardless of where the ultimate transaction occurs, consumers are increasingly viewing shopping as a cross-channel experience.

Source: Google Insights for Search, comScore 2009