December 7, 2009, 12:00 AM

Big retailers take market share as online sales grow during the holidays

Online sales for the week ended Friday were up 5% over last year to $4.72 billion, and online sales for the season are up 4%, reports web measurement firm comScore.

Online holiday sales growth is holding up, but it’s the largest retailers that are enjoying most of the gains, reports web measurement firm comScore Inc.

Last week’s online retail sales were up 5% over last year to $4.72 billion, and three days topped $800 million. That included last Monday, often called Cyber Monday, when sales matched e-retailing’s best day ever at $887 million; Tuesday was just about as good at $886 million, comScore says. For the holiday season to date-Nov. 1 through Dec. 4-comScore says online retail sales total $15.295 billion, up 4% from $14.767 billion during the same period last year.

“We have now passed the halfway point of the season with the 4% growth in online spending to date slightly exceeding comScore’s forecast of an overall 3% growth rate for the entire season,” says comScore chairman Gian Fulgoni. “It will be interesting to see if the encouraging growth continues as we head into the busiest days of the season. Nonetheless, I do expect that we will see the industry’s first $900 million online spending day during this next critical week of the season.” He notes particular strength in web sales of consumer electronics and computer hardware.

While the online sales are a bit better than expected, and far better than the generally flat sales at bricks-and-mortar retail stores, the wealth is not being shared equally among e-retailers. The top 25 online retailers gained 13% in share of dollars spent in November, while smaller and midsized retailers declined year over year by 10%, comScore says.

“It’s pretty clear that the larger, established retailers have an overall competitive advantage during a recession,” Fulgoni says. “Not only are they better equipped to meet the price demands of cash-strapped consumers, but they are also able to maintain their marketing investments and gain consumer mindshare.” There is one caveat to that statistic, however: All orders through Amazon.com’s marketplace are credited to Amazon, even though many of the sales are made by smaller retailers selling through Amazon. Amazon is No. 1 in the Internet Retailer Top 500 Guide (a PDF version of the company’s financial and operating profile can be ordered by clicking on its name).

The comScore data also show that consumers are taking advantage of free shipping offers. 44% of purchases last week included some type of shipping offer, up from 40% during the same week last year. Free shipping proved particularly compelling during the week ended Nov. 22, the week before Thanksgiving, when 50% of dollar purchases included a shipping offer, up from 39% during the same week in 2008. The average value of orders that include free shipping is 15% higher than for orders without shipping offers, suggesting that retailers are successfully persuading consumers to buy more to meet thresholds for free shipping, comScore says.

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