December 29, 2005, 12:00 AM

Online sales momentum continued late into the season, says comScore

Driven by retailers’ aggressive discounting late in the season and consumers’ increased confidence in expedited shipping, online sales in the two weeks before Dec. 25 were up 31% over last year.

The holiday shopping season was a good one online, with non-travel (retail) Internet sales from Nov. 1 through Dec. 25 reaching $18.11 billion, up 25% from $14.5 billion in the same period last year, comScore Networks Inc. reports. The late shopping season performed strongly, with online sales for the final two weeks prior to Christmas up 31% over last year.

“The season’s busiest days occurred on December 12 and 13, but we’ve seen continued sales momentum as Christmas neared,” says comScore Networks chairman Gian Fulgoni. The season’s 25% growth, slightly ahead of comScore’s initial projections, reflects aggressive price discounting offered by online merchants late in the season as well as consumers’ increased confidence in expedited shipping, he adds.

Online sales of gift certificates soared this season, up 19% over last year. Computer hardware was the top-ranking category in sales volume with $4.1 billion spent online this holiday season, up 14% from last year. Apparel and accessories representing $3 .0 billion in online sales for November. 1- December 25, were up 37% from last year. Online sales of consumer electronics rose 20% from last year to reach $1.3 billion. The category seeing the biggest percentage of gain over last year was sports and fitness products, where online sales during the holiday period rose 49%.

eBay was the most-visited retail site during the period, followed by the web sites of Amazon, Wal-Mart, Apple , Target, Dell, Toysrus, Overstock.com, Best Buy and Circuit City. comScore forecasts that consumer spending on retail goods at U.S. e-commerce sites will exceed $19 billion for the entire holiday season of November through December, representing 25% growth over the same period last year.

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