November 26, 2013, 2:23 PM

A ‘solid start’ to the online holiday shopping season

Just counting PC purchases, sales are up 14% over last year, comScore says.

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Confronting an odd holiday calendar, shoppers aren’t waiting for the post-Thanksgiving sales to begin their gift buying.

Just counting purchases made from desktop and laptop computers, online retail sales were up 14% from Nov. 1-24 compared with the same period last year, comScore Inc. reported today. IBM Corp. reports that weekend online sales were up 19%, and online marketing firm ChannelAdvisor Corp. says its clients’ weekend sales were 30% higher than over the pre-Thanksgiving weekend in 2012.

“The 2013 online holiday shopping season is off to a solid start,” says Andrew Lipsman, comScore vice president of marketing and insights.

All the shopping channels ChannelAdvisor tracks—including its retailer clients’ sales on the Amazon and eBay marketplaces, and from search engines and comparison shopping engines—showed at least double-digit growth over the weekend before Thanksgiving last year. “This bodes well, as retailers need the consumer open their wallet earlier this year to help make up for the lost six days of holiday 2013,” says ChannelAdvisor CEO Scot Wingo.

Wingo is referring to Thanksgiving this year falling on its latest possible date, Nov. 28, after falling on its earliest date, Nov. 22, in 2012. That cuts six shopping days, and a full weekend, from the prime Thanksgiving-to-Christmas shopping period. Further skewing holiday results is the fact that Hanukkah starts tomorrow evening, just before Thanksgiving, an early date that’s nearly unprecedented.

In its report today, comScore says U.S. consumers using PCs bought $18.912 billion from Nov. 1-24 on retail web sites, up 14% from $16.562 billion during the same period last year. ComScore tracks mobile sales separately. The company projects a 14.1% increase in desktop e-retail purchases to $48.1 billion during November and December this year over last year. In addition, comScore expects consumers buying on smartphones and tablets to spend $7.1 billion, representing 13% of total digital commerce. Total spending across digital channels is expected to be $55.2 billion for the season.

"While the early part of the online holiday shopping season has been solid so far, we are tempering our expectations given the shortened 26-day shopping period between Thanksgiving and Christmas this year," Lipsman says. "In addition, with Hannukah beginning in November this year there is some spending that has been pulled forward and likely added a boost to the early November shopping period. That said, our forecast of 14% growth for desktop-based buying still represents a strong outlook versus last year that highlights the continued channel shift to online. We also expect m-commerce spending growth to contribute about 2 percentage points to that growth rate, meaning that total digital commerce will grow at a rate of nearly 16%."

In its report, IBM said department stores’ online sales grew nearly 72% over last year, and the health and beauty category grew 41%.

Mobile devices represented nearly 37% of online traffic and 18% of sales, IBM says.

On Monday, IBM says, sales growth fell to 12% over last year. Mobile devices accounted for nearly 32% of traffic, 20% from smartphones and 11% from tablets. 13% of purchases were on mobile devices. Of those, 9% were made on tablets and 4.6% on mobile phones. Apple-branded phones and tablets accounted for 11.06% of purchases, more than four times the 2.5% from Android devices.

ChannelAdvisor says its clients’ sales through Amazon increased 43.2% this weekend over the same weekend last year, on eBay 31.6%, through comparison shopping engines 19.6% and paid search marketing 11.5%. In addition, their sales more than doubled, growing 110.6%, through Google Product Listing Ads, an ad format Google launched in the fall of 2012.

In another sign that consumers are avidly shopping for deals, Akamai Technologies' Net Usage Index, which measures traffic to web sites around the world, was showing this afternoon an average of 4.7 million page views per minute by North American consumers to retail web sites. Akamai says that's about 35% higher than on the Tuesday before Thanksgiving last year.

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