TARGET BEATS WAL-MART ONLINE Traffic Surges; Also Has Higher Per-Shopper Sales

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COLUMBUS, Ohio ( -- Wal-mart stores might dwarf Target in overalls sales by a multiple of six, but by almost any measure the bull’s-eye is giving the smiley face a sound beating online.

The average per-shopper sale on is $125 vs. $85 at

Consider the statistics going into the key holiday season. Target’s audience grew 83% to 11.4 million in September 2005, compared with the same month last year, while Wal-Mart’s grew 4% to 15.7 million for the same period, according to research firm comScore Media Metrix. According to estimates from research firm Internet Retailer, the average ticket price at is $125 vs. $85 at

And according to Internet Retailer, Target logged 25% growth in online sales to $756 million in 2004, compared with 8% growth to $782 million in 2004 for Overall, online retailing jumped 25% for full-year 2004.

Wal-Mart 'a real laggard'
“When it comes to online sales, Wal-Mart is a real laggard,” said Kurt Peters, editor of Internet Retailer, which publishes an annual list of the top 400 e-retailing sites. Since neither retailer releases online sales data, a lag in measuring growth stifles real-time analysis.

Raul Vazquez, VP-marketing for, disputes the figures and says the industry data available fails to recognize the growth in sales the division is seeing. Internal forecasts show visits to will top 500 million in 2005, a 40% increase over 2004, and sales will grow at two to three times sales in 2004, although he would not release any data. “Our numbers right now are fantastic,” he said.

But analysts expect Target’s massive investments online this year, including a doubling of SKUs from 70,000 to more than 200,000, to make a dramatic difference.

Target's online style
From online trunk shows with Michael Graves to lifestyle Web sites around its stable of high-fashion designers, such as Issac Mizrahi and Liz Lange, Target views its online presence as a way to “extend the experience,” said Will Seitliff, director of interactive marketing at Target.

The Target strategy presents its challenges, though, said Bill Betcher of Gomez, a research firm that tracks performance of online sites, including how long it takes a site to complete a transaction, or the “success rate.”

As Target added more stock this rate declined. In May, Target averaged just 15 seconds for transaction completion, but by October the rate was tracking at 21 seconds. Even though 21 seconds is the average for all online retailers, Target’s exploding online audience may end up a mixed blessing this holiday season, Mr. Betcher said.

Bricks-and-mortar considerations
Jeffrey Grau, senior analyst of retail e-commerce at research firm eMarketer, argues that the better measure of success online isn’t sales, but audience. “[Target] is marketing their Web site to drive traffic into their stores more than anything,” he said. “When you consider success, you have to look at the influence of the online channel not just on online sales, but on bricks-and-mortar sales.”

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CORRECTION: An earlier version of this story incorrectly reported the average ticket price of a shopper vs. a shopper and was wrongly attributed to online research firm eMarketer.

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