Online sales brisk in November, thanks to Black Friday

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Online sales helped put retailers over the top during the Thanksgiving holiday weekend and the whole month of November, according to sales figures from major national chains.

Online sales were up 12% in November over the same time last year, according to tallies by MasterCard Advisors SpendingPulse, which tracks sales via credit cards, cash and check. Consumers took advantage of free shipping offers and specials on the weekend of Black Friday — the day after Thanksgiving that's the official start of the holiday shopping season – and helped the segment post its first double-digit percentage growth since July and the largest increase since May.

“It's a combination of people wanting to avoid some of the crowds that come with Black Friday, as well as the promotions that came with the free shipping,” said Mike Berry, director of industry research at MasterCard Advisors. “Why risk getting trampled if you can sit in the comfort of your own home and shop online?” He noted a number of retailers offered the same door-buster prices online that they had in the stores, and sometimes even on Thanksgiving, before the stores opened.

Apparel sales were very strong online, up 22.2 percent, its biggest growth rate for the year and the first time growth had topped 20 percent since March. Electronics, which had weak sales in stores (down 1.1%, due mainly to lower TV prices), performed much better online, rising 6%.

“We still haven't reached saturation point on that online channel,” he said.

Major retailers reported their combined in-store and online sales rose 6% in November. Online sales really helped, although the competition was stiff, said Sherif Mityas, a partner in the retail practice at consultant A.T. Kearney. Several retailers, including Victoria's Secret and J.C. Penney, reported setting sales records online on Black Friday.

“Retailers did a pretty good job in replicating the frenzy of Black Friday in their internet sites,” Mityas said. “That extra dollar from their wallet is what it's about this year.”

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