Report: Online Sales Spiked Sharply in November

Boosting hopes for a banner e-commerce holiday, a new report says U.S. consumers spent US$1 billion more online during the first three weeks of November than in the same period last year.

The eSpending report from Goldman Sachs, Harris Interactive and Nielsen//NetRatings pegged holiday sales at $4.5 billion in the time frame, 29 percent higher than in the first phase of the 2001 holiday shopping season.

The same firms also found that so-called Black Friday lived up to its billing, at least online, with the number of surfers surging 18 percent compared with the rest of the week and 36 percent compared with the previous Friday. However, the boost was slightly smaller than a year ago, when Black Friday traffic rose 22 percent compared with the rest of the week.

Sustainable Developments?

Questions remain about whether these early results can be sustained throughout the shopping season. The shorter-than-usual span between Thanksgiving and Christmas, along with heavy promotions by online companies such as Amazon.com, may be simply spurring earlier sales.

But Nielsen//NetRatings chief e-commerce analyst Lisa Strand told the E-Commerce Times that online sites seem poised to claim a bigger chunk of consumers total holiday budget than in previous years.

“We’re seeing consumers shift their budgets toward the online space,” she said. “It’s coming at the expense of offline stores and catalogs, however, as overall people still say they plan to spend less than in the past.”

Smaller Wallets, Bigger Shares

So-called wallet share has been seen as an important hurdle by analysts for e-commerce to overcome. To date, e-commerce still accounts for just over 1 percent of all retail sales in the United States.

“When online commerce can start to grab significant sales from other mediums, that’s when the next serious growth spurt will occur,” Harris Interactive director of e-commerce research Lori Iventosch-James told the E-Commerce Times.

Per-shopper spending also inched up in November. Combined with widespread reports that indicate most consumers will spend the same amount or less than they did last year, this may be another sign that shoppers are directing more of their holiday dollars toward the Web.

Back in Black

Overall trends seem to be supported by data from individual e-tailers and portals. AOL said its members accounted for $1.09 billion in e-commerce spending during Thanksgiving week, 26 percent more than last year.

Strand added that the strong Friday after Thanksgiving is especially important this year, since Thanksgiving came a week later. “Web merchants have a much shorter selling season,” she said. “Aggressive promotions for sales have been going on through much of November to help make up for that.”

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