December 23, 2003, 12:00 AM

Online retail spending shoots up--the question is: How much?

Consumers have taken to the web this holiday shopping season but two competing researchers are reporting very different numbers.

Kurt Peters

Executive Editor

Consumers have taken to the web this holiday shopping season--no doubt about it. The only question is: To what extent? Two competing researchers are reporting very different numbers. The eSpending report released today by Goldman, Sachs & Co., Harris Interactive, and Nielsen/NetRatings reports that online shoppers spent $2.95 billion during the second week in December, an increase of 48% from the corresponding week in 2002.

In contrast, ComScore Networks Inc. reports that consumers spent $2 billion that week, the second consecutive week that comScore’s online retail spending total exceeded $2 billion. Both research reports exclude online travel sales.

The differences between the numbers are usually attributed to differing methodologies. The eSpending Report is based on a weekly national survey of 800 to 1,700 online shoppers randomly chosen from Harris Interactive`s online panel of survey respondents. ComScore gathers its numbers by monitoring a cross-section of 1.5 million consumers who have agreed to allow comScore to track their Internet behavior.

Whichever online number is correct, it’s clear that consumers are moving to the web. Total retail sales grew 3.9% for the same week year-over-year, reports ShopperTrak’s National Retail Sales Estimate. In addition, the eSpending Report found that through the week of December 12, shoppers spent 21% of their 2003 holiday budget online, up from 16% in 2002. Brick and mortar storefronts have experienced a commensurate decrease in spending. Shoppers said they had expected to spend 72.9% of their budget at brick and mortars in 2003, down from 76.8% last year.

The latest eSpending weekly report brings the total spent online excluding travel to $13 billion this holiday season, an increase of 46% over last year.



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