October 1, 2010, 10:54 AM

Holiday online outlook: Deloitte is bullish, while e-retailers are cautiously optimistic

While a holiday online sales forecast from Deloitte is slightly more optimistic than a survey of more than 250 e-retailers by The E-tailing Group.

Zak Stambor

Managing Editor

Signs point to significant growth in online retail sales this holiday season. But a forecast from consulting and accounting firm Deloitte LLP is a tad more optimistic than retailers themselves are, based on a survey of more than 250 online merchants by The E-tailing Group Inc., a market research and consulting firm.

Deloitte late last month forecast that overall holiday sales will increase just 2% over last year, but that direct-to-consumer sales will increase 15%. The web accounts for two-thirds of direct sales, Deloitte says, with the rest coming from catalog and TV shopping show sales.

“Non-store retailing, particularly e-commerce, is gearing up to be the bright spot in the holiday picture this year,” says Alison Paul, Deloitte’s retail practice head.

If Deloitte’s forecast proves accurate, it would represent a return to double-digit growth for online holiday sales. In 2009, online holiday sales grew only 4% year over year to $29.1 billion, according to comScore Inc., which measures web traffic and e-commerce sales.

Many of the online retailers surveyed by The E-tailing Group expect to exceed 4% growth this holiday season. The 79% who expect higher sales this season than last include 57% who project growth of more than 5%. 12% expect sales to be flat and 9% believe sales will decline relative to the 2009 season.

Asked about their expectations for the upcoming holiday season, 61% describe themselves as cautiously optimistic, 18% optimistic, 9% somewhat pessimistic and 2% pessimistic, with the remaining 10% characterized as unchanged in their sentiments.

Paul says non-store shopping is rising primarily because of convenience, and encourages retailers to reach out to consumers through all the channels they’re using, including the web and mobile phones.

Many retailers are planning to take that advice, The E-tailing Group survey suggests. 38% of e-retailers have mobile initiatives planned, including 25% that have commerce-enabled mobile sites, and 91% plan to market through social networks like Facebook and Twitter.

zak@verticalwebmedia.com

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