December 3, 2012, 4:53 PM

Holiday sales surge with four billion-dollar-plus days

The first 30 days of the holiday season rung up $20.4 billion in web sales.

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Holiday online sales are off to a record-breaking start this year, with four billion-dollar-plus days in the last two weeks of November, according to web measurement firm comScore Inc.

From Saturday, November 3, through Sunday, Dec. 2, shoppers in the United States spent $20.38 billion online, up 15% from the comparable period last year, comScore says.

As usual, the pace picked up over the Thanksgiving weekend, which led to a string of billion-dollar days the following week. Sales shot up 32% on Thanksgiving Day to $633 million, from $479 million a year ago, then continued to grow 28% year over year on Black Friday, to $1.04 billion from $816 million.

The pace picked up even more the following week, as web sales on Cyber Monday, the first Monday after Thanksgiving, rose 17% year over year to $1.47 billion, followed by Tuesday with $1.26 billion and Wednesday, $1.11 billion, comScore says. U.S. online shoppers spent at least $1 billion on 10 days during the 2011 holiday shopping season.

Digital content and subscriptions saw the sharpest increase in sales among product categories, rising 25% year over year, followed by toys, 21%; consumer packaged goods, 18%; consumer electronics, 17%, and video game consoles and accessories, 16%, according to comScore.

Chase Paymentech, a payments processor for web and store retailers, said in its Chase Pulse report that online sales grew nearly 31% year over year for the three-day period from Saturday, Nov. 24, through Cyber Monday, Nov. 26.

Retailers liberally offered free shipping around Thanksgiving, and 57% of orders for the week ended Nov. 25—the Sunday after Thanksgiving—included free shipping, comScore says. Many retailers require a minimum purchase to get free shipping, and the average order value for items that shipped free that week was $137 versus $91 when the consumer paid for delivery.

"Any way you look at the data, there's no doubt that web retailers had a strong Thanksgiving weekend, which culminated in a very strong Cyber Monday with web sales up nearly 22% over last year,” says Sucharita Mulpuru, vice president and principal analyst for e-business at Forrester Research Inc.

She adds, however, that lower average ticket values and a higher number of transactions means that retailers had a lot of free shipping offers with low minimum order thresholds. “The biggest challenge at this point,” Mulpuru says, “is for retailers to keep the momentum going through December as a lot of consumers are probably ‘shopped out’ for the next couple of weeks."

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