November 24, 2010, 10:40 AM

comScore predicts record online holiday sales

E-retail holiday sales could eclipse the pre-recession record set in 2007.

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Online holiday sales are off to a strong start, comScore says. And when the season is over, the web measurement firm predicts e-commerce sales for the 2010 holiday season will eclipse the record set in 2007, before the recession took hold.

E-retail sales for Nov. 1-21 totaled $9.01 billion, comScore says, 13% higher than $7.95 billion for the comparable three-week period last year. Based on that unexpectedly strong showing, comScore has issued an official holiday forecast of 11% growth, higher than the 7-9% growth company officials have been informally predicting.

“The beginning of the online holiday shopping season has gotten off to an extremely positive start, outperforming our earlier expectations,” says comScore chairman, Gian Fulgoni. “Despite continued high unemployment rates and other economic concerns, consumers seem to be more willing to open up their wallets this holiday season than last. While this early spending surge reflects, in part, heavy promotional activity on the part of retailers occurring earlier this season, it is nevertheless a very encouraging sign.”

For all of November and December, comScore predicts e-retail sales will total $32.4 billion, which would represent 11% growth over $29.1 billion last year and surpass the previous holiday season record of $29.17 billion set in 2007.

“After a year in which we already saw growth rates return to solid positive territory, the recent strength in holiday spending has led us to raise our official forecast to 11 percent from the 7 to 9 percent we were initially expecting,” Fulgoni says. “We are seeing online spending surpass the totals we saw in 2007 prior to the recession and expect sales this holiday season to be the highest on record with more than $32 billion being spent during the November and December period.”

11% growth would represent an uptick from the growth rate year to date, according to comScore, which bases its estimates on the online behavior of 2 million consumers who permit comScore to track their web activity. From January through October 2010, web retail sales have amounted to $109.9 billion, an increase of 9% over $100.7 billion during the same period last year, comScore says.

ComScore’s 11% growth forecast is below that of two other research firms that have recently predicted e-commerce sales for the holiday season. Forrester Research Inc. has projected 16% growth over last year and eMarketer 14% growth.

The comScore estimate of 13% growth in e-retail sales Nov. 1-21 is in line with a recent report from MasterCard that e-commerce sales grew 11.4% from Oct. 31 to Nov. 13.

Along with its holiday forecast and report on early-season activity, comScore also released this week results of a holiday shopping survey it conducted with 500 online consumers Nov. 11-15.

The survey shows consumers perceive retailers to be offering more discounts early in the season than last year, with 36% saying they see more deals, 40% about the same, 11% fewer and 13% not sure.

Free shipping remains an attractive incentive the survey suggests. ComScore asked consumers how important free shipping is. Here are the results:

  • Very important—I won’t make a purchase without it, 33%
  • Somewhat important—I actively seek out free shipping deals, 44%
  • Neither important nor unimportant—I’d like to find it, but it’s not necessary, 12%
  • Somewhat unimportant—Free shipping have very little effect, 2%
  • Very unimportant—I’ll make my purchase regardless of shipping offers, 1%
  • Don’t know/not sure, 8%
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