Caution after solid Thanksgiving weekend

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Online sales spiked significantly on Cyber Monday last week, according to several reports, bringing a bit of good news to online and multichannel retailers during what is expected to be a slow holi­day season. However, sales were down in some sectors as compared with 2007.

Marketing services company, Hitwise, a subsidiary of Experian, which moni­tored the top 500 retail Web sites as measured by Web traffic, reported that US consumer visits to online-only Web sites were up 5% on Cyber Monday 2008 compared with last year. However, visits to bricks-and-mortar stores' Web sites were down 4% that day.

Hitwise reported that the top visited retail Web site on Cyber Monday this year was Amazon.com, which received 10.77% of US visits among the top 500 retail Web sites. Walmart.com was the second most visited, with 8.55% of visits, followed by Target.com with 4.56%. BestBuy.com and Sears.com rounded out the top five.

One reason online-only sites may have seen a spike rather than their multichannel counterparts is because they are tradition­ally considered the best places to save money, said Heather Dougherty, director of research for Hitwise.

“Web-only retailers really get behind that sentiment, and they promote [Cyber Monday] more,” she said, noting that mul­tichannel retailers typically promote Black Friday more heavily.

However, the most overall Cyber Mon­day sales were on sites for multichannel retailers such as Best Buy and Target.

Internet research company ComScore said that overall online sales spiked 15% to $846 million on Cyber Monday 2008, compared with 2007.

More than 172 million shoppers visited stores and Web sites over Thanksgiving weekend, up from 147 million shoppers last year, according to the National Retail Federation's 2008 Black Friday Weekend survey, conducted by BigResearch.

Shoppers spent an average of $372.57 that weekend, up 7.2% over last year's $347.55. Total spending reached an esti­mated $41 billion.

“Pent-up demand on electronics and clothing, plus unparalleled bargains on this season's hottest items helped drive shopping all weekend,” said NRF president and CEO Tracy Mullin. “Holiday sales are not expected to continue at this brisk pace, but it is encouraging that Americans seem excited to go shopping again.”

Friday was clearly the busiest day of the weekend, with 73.6 million people hitting stores and Web sites for doorbuster sales, according to the NRF. Although traffic subsided after Friday, retailers also were buoyed by two-day sales as 56.9 million people shopped on Saturday, up from 48.3 million last year, while another 26.2 mil­lion people planned to shop on Sunday.

The organization also noted that Thanks­giving Day is growing more important. The number of Thursday shoppers was up 48% over last year — 16.2 million people shopped that day this year, compared with 10.9 million people last year.

“Though retailers should be encour­aged by strong traffic and sales over the weekend, consumers are still being cau­tious,” said Phil Rist, EVP, strategic initia­tives, BigResearch. “Shoppers indicated that they are still sticking to a budget and thinking carefully before making any holi­day purchases.”

The NRF projects holiday sales will rise 2.2% this year to $470.4 billion.

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