As the festive season gets underway, we are already seeing some interesting data on trends and predictions across the global e-commerce industry.

Naturally, the Christmas sections of our Internet Statistics Compendium will be updated with the best of it over the coming months so be sure to check back for upcoming editions.

Some of the most significant holiday data for marketers and retailers alike focuses on the growth of the virtual goods sector. 

Here are a few highlights…

Smartphone and tablet growth

Mary Meeker’s comprehensive Internet Trends 2011 presentation at the Web 2.0 Summit in October was a good reminder of the speedy proliferation of new smartphone and tablet technology around the world.

The numbers speak for themselves. As of Q2 2011 (just six quarters since its release) upwards of 35m iPads have shipped globally making them the fastest ramping Apple product to date.

In the US, recent data from Pew sees that 11% of the US population owns a tablet.

Additionally, smartphone growth has perhaps been best exemplified by Android’s OS market share. This increased from 2.9% to 30.1% between Q2 2010 and Q2 2011 (Strategy Analytics).

Virtual goods

Last month, US-focused statistics from Elastic Path highlighted that 27% of holiday shoppers plan to buy digital gifts with 36% of those intending to spend more on virtual items than they did in 2010.

US holiday shoppers are also keen to spend some of their gift budgets across a breadth of virtual products. Game downloads, rentals or subscriptions are cited as the most desirable with 21% considering giving these to others.

Music downloads/subscriptions and ebooks are not far behind with 20% and 16% of consumers, respectively, looking to spend on digital audio and books for their friends and families.

Types of digital goods - Elastic Path

Among digital gift buyers, 56% are planning to purchase redeemable gift cards.

Yet, the opinions of consumers as to the pros and cons of virtual products perhaps offer the best insight into where marketers and e-retailers might want to focus their efforts over Christmas and on into the new year.

Speed and efficiency are the biggest benefits for purchasing digital goods as gifts. 29% of US shoppers say virtual gifts are better because they can be bought at the last minute and delivered instantly, while 24% believe them to be faster and easier to purchase.

Benefits of giving digital goods over physical goods - Elastic Path

By comparison, 32% of prospective buyers agree that virtual gifts seem less personal than physical gifts. Similarly, an additional barrier to 26% is the need to know what devices the recipient owns before making a purchase.

Disadvantages of giving digital goods over physical goods - Elastic Path

Despite the enthusiasm for digital gifts, there is certainly scope for marketers and retailers to find opportunities to bridge the gap between virtual and physical.

By increasing personalisation of digital presents, for example, or offering a substantial physical aspect which can be placed under the tree and opened on Christmas morning, the appeal of digital gifts with unexpected or unique physical aspects may see more consumers choosing virtual items in 2012 and beyond.