The U.S. Commerce Department reported that year-over-year (YOY) ecommerce sales growth was 15.8% for Q2 2016. As we reported in the latest Ecommerce Quarterly benchmark report, almost all of that growth can be attributed to the shopping activity of returning visitors.

This post covers our three favorite (and surprising!) takeaways from the our analysis of Q2 ecommerce performance. For more, grab your copy of the report.

Surprising takeaway #1: Returning visitor traffic is way up

Returning visitor traffic, already a large share of any ecommerce company’s traffic base, jumped 34% YOY.

Monetate Ecommerce Quarterly data
That’s huge growth, especially when you compare to new visitor acquisition. Brands were only able to grow their new visitor traffic by 10% YOY.

The driving forces behind this growth? Mobile and social.

Traffic from returning visitors on mobile devices was up 87% YOY. Traffic from returning visitors referred from social channels was up 80%. In neither case did conversion rates improve, but those spikes in traffic did lead to a corresponding spike in revenue.

Surprising takeaway #2: Returning visitors are being more discerning

While returning visitor conversion rates were still pretty strong, they did drop YOY. In Q2 2016, returning visitors had a conversion rate of 4% (down 12.5% from 4.6% in Q2 2015).

That decline comes while add-to-cart rate actually increased by more than 6% YOY. But there’s a catch: returning visitors seemed to know what it was that they were after when they went to add those items to their cart.

Three key returning-visitor metrics that IMPROVED:

  • Traffic up 34.7%
  • Add-to-cart rate up 6%
  • AOV up 10%

Three key returning-visitor metrics that DECLINED:

  • Average pageviews down 18.8%
  • Bounce rate up 21.1%
  • Conversion rate down 13.2%

Another surprising insight we uncovered: customers became less likely to even view a product: The rate at which returning customers simply viewed a product dropped 9% from 50.8% in Q2 2015 to 46.5% in Q2 2016. (And although this wasn’t as pronounced of a drop, this held true even among those visitors who didn’t bounce.)

Surprising Takeaway #3: Returning visitors are spending more

AOV YOYYou might think that higher bounce rates, lower conversion rates, and less likelihood to view products would mean returning visitors are spending less money.

Well, you’d be wrong.

Average order values for returning visitors increased 10.4% from $114.10 to $126.00.

The good AOV news is that all channels (particularly desktop) saw YOY increases. Desktop PCs remain the device of choice for larger spending, with AOV hitting $143.68 (up from $122.43 the previous year and, notably, far better than Q4 2015, which in which returning visitors registered an AOV of $125.83).

We also found that returning visitor AOV improved in the two largest acquisition channels: direct and search.

Want to learn more about returning-visitor behavior in Q2 2016, and how to optimize for this almighty segment? Download your copy of the Monetate Ecommerce Quarterly report for Q2 2016. It includes in-depth analysis on the trends above plus industry benchmarks and real-world examples from Harley-Davidson and more.

As Jay Atkinson, director of optimization for Blue Acorn said:

“If you work in ecommerce, it’s important to understand online retail trends, because they can help inform your strategy. The latest Monetate Ecommerce Quarterly report explains why online retail sales had such a strong second quarter, even though retail overall had been in a slump. Anyone who reads the findings will understand why returning visitor traffic is so important and why personalization is such a critical business strategy.”