Unraveling Holiday Shopping: Using passive metering to understand how consumers shop online during the holiday season – Part I

We are excited to share with you the first part of our new case study, 'Unraveling Holiday Shopping.' In the last months of 2016, we researched what consumers search, shop, and spend online during the most wonderful time of the year. Enjoy!

Why is measuring online shopping behavior important?

More than half of all shopping is now done online.[1] Clearly, consumers are moving away from purchasing at brick-and-mortar stores and instead are increasingly taking advantage of the convenience of online shopping. This is supported by the views of our participants - 50% said they did more than half to all of their shopping online this year. 40% claim to have spent more this year on holiday shopping than last year, and 13% reported they avoid retail stores altogether, instead choosing to only shop online this holiday season.


Even before we executed our study, we knew the holidays are always a peak time for shopping. In order to support this hypothesis, and to find out how people shop online in general, we passively tracked a US panel from the end of November to the end of December, to see if the holiday season had a noticeable effect on their online shopping behavior.

Research objective

The research objective of this study was to get a better understanding of who shops what, when, where, and why. Specifically, what do consumers search, shop, and spend online during the holiday season?


Research design

We passively measured 278 participants from SoapBoxSample’s US online panel. The participants were 26% male, 74% female, with 29% representing a segment of mothers.


Behavioral data was collected via Wakoopa’s passive metering technology from November 23 (Thanksgiving) to December 31 (New Year's Eve), 2016. Within the mother’s group, we also implemented event triggered 'in the moment' surveys. These pop-up surveys were deployed when a purchase was made to get deeper insights about their spending and the drivers behind them.


After the completion of the passive data collection, we conducted a post-survey on panelists’ shopping behavior in early January 2017. In a recruitment poll, 96% of our shoppers claimed to rely upon using desktop computers for their holiday shopping, so for the purpose of this study, we will focus only on desktop purchasing behaviors.

Research results

Before we dive deeper into the results, let's look at some fun facts!


General online activity

In our research, we saw quite clearly that shopping, both searching and buying, generated the highest total visits and the second highest total duration. People are spending most of their time on social and dating websites (which include Facebook, Twitter, and any other social media site) which is to be expected.


The shopping rate of our participants was remarkably high, which speaks to the popularity of shopping during the holiday season. In fact we found that in any given week, on average, 85% of our participants (which amounts to more than 4 out of 5 respondents!) visited a shopping related site in any week between Thanksgiving and New Year’s Day.

General shopping activity

In this graph we can see the percentage of pageviews on shopping and price comparison sites compared to the total number of pageviews over the observed time period. For example, a 10% rate means that of all the pageviews across the panel on that day, 1 out of 10 was on a shopping and price comparison website.


Black Friday and Cyber Monday are two dates which are clearly visible on the graph, as we can make out very high levels of shopping activity around these days.

Around December 22-23, shopping activity was drastically lower than during the rest of the observed time. This could be due to the fact that participants did not trust their purchases to be delivered in time for Christmas, or maybe they had completed all of their shopping in the weeks before.

However, we see an uptake in activity again on the days immediately following Christmas Day. Perhaps people were looking to return unwanted gifts, or check the value of the gifts they received. Anyone who had been gifted money or a gift card for Christmas might also have been looking to use it.

Coming Up

In the next installment of this series, we will dive deeper into the data including which e-commerce platforms were used most by our panelists, how men and women compared in their usage of Amazon and Walmart, and how popular domains varied with different generations.

[1] Stevens, L. (2016, June 08). Survey Shows Rapid Growth in Online Shopping. Retrieved from https://www.wsj.com/articles/survey-shows-rapid-growth-in-online-shopping-1465358582