Report: E-commerce sales up this holiday season

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E-commerce sales hit $35.3 billion for the holiday season so far, up 15% compared with the same time period last year. During the week that ended on Dec. 25, e-commerce retailers brought in more than $2.8 billion alone in spending, a 16% increase from the corresponding week last year, according to a Dec. 28 report from comScore.

The comScore report — which tracked retail e-commerce spending for the first 56 days of the November-December 2011 holiday season — found Cyber Monday to be the biggest day for online spending for the season for the second consecutive year. While the season had a number of billion-dollar days, consumers spent $1.25 billion on Cyber Monday, an increase of 22% year-over-year.

Online sales increased on Christmas Day this year, as consumers loaded up their new devices with digital content purchases such as music, movies and apps. On any given day during the 2011 holiday season, digital content purchases accounted for 2.8% of retail e-commerce sales, but on Christmas Day this category accounted for more than 20% of e-commerce sales, according to the comScore report. ComScore predicts sales in this category to remain elevated through New Year's Day.

"There's no question that online retail has been bigger than ever this year. Some have seen tremendous growth in just the last eight weeks alone, and we fully expect this trend to grow in the coming years," said Kathy Grannis, director of media relations at the National Retail Federation (NRF). "At the same time, we also know that retailers have been using their websites as a tool to drive people to their stores."

To help drive sales, many retailers this season took a multichannel approach and many kept their brick-and-mortar stores open around-the-clock before and after the holiday. Macy's and Toys “R” Us both held 24-hour store openings for the week leading up to Christmas at select locations. In addition, some retail chains, such as Family Dollar Store, opened select stores on Christmas Day.

Still, Grannis noted that the NRF found that the average consumer said they would do 38% of their holiday shopping online. "For nearly four in 10 items to be bought online, that's a huge step," she said.

“The growth in e-commerce is being driven by two things, convenience and price,” said Gian Fulgoni, executive chairman and cofounder of comScore. “This year, it is clear that price has become more important to people, and now people are able to find the lowest prices using mobile devices.

“I suspect that we'll look back on this holiday season as a tipping point in the way that people shop,” he continued. “Mobile devices are not just changing the way people check prices, but also how they buy.”

Grannis concurred, "I think this holiday season was the year of mobile," she said. "But there is still some growing up to do with both retailers and consumers in maturing the mobile shopping experience. Many people are still hesitant to hit the 'submit' button."

E-commerce was not the only channel to see sales increase this year. The NRF estimates that overall holiday retail sales will be up 3.8% this year to a record $469.1 billion. While this increase is above the 10-year average sales increase of 2.6% per year, it is still lower than the 5.2% increase the retail industry saw last year.

Not every retailer did well this holiday season. Sears Holdings Corporation, the company that owns both Sears and Kmart stores, did not go into the black this quarter. For the eight weeks ending Dec. 25, Kmart's quarter-to-date sales were down 4.4% and Sears' stores sales were down 6%. As a result, the company plans to close 100 to 120 Kmart and Sears stores, Sears said in a statement.

Sears, Macy's, Toys “R” Us and the Family Dollar Store did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

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