September 24, 2014, 12:42 PM

E-commerce holiday sales set for double-digit growth

Deloitte projects that online sales and mail orders will increase at least 13.5% this year, far more than the 4.0% to 4.5% growth expected for all retail sales during the season. That would represent higher online sales growth than during the 2013 holiday season.

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Online holiday retail sales and mail order purchases in the United States will increase between 13.5% and 14.0% this year compared with 2013, according to a projection released today by Deloitte LLP.

The firm did not break out online orders from mail orders, but a spokeswoman says mail orders represent little of that total.

Its annual holiday retail sales forecast also says that “digital interactions­”—whether through desktops, laptops, tablets or smartphones—will influence half of all retail store sales this holiday season.

“While online sales continue to climb, digital customer interactions through both virtual and physical store channels present greater sales opportunities than online or mobile commerce alone,” says Alison Paul, vice chairman, Deloitte LLP and retail and distribution sector leader.  “Our research indicates that 84% of shoppers use digital tools before and during their trip to a store.  Additionally, those shoppers convert, or make a purchase, at a 40% higher rate than those who do not use such devices during their shopping journey.” 

In all, Deloitte anticipates that total holiday sales will increase 4.0% to 4.5% this year compared with 2013, for total sales of $981 to $986 billion. That would exceed the 2.8% growth rate pegged by Deloitte for the 2013 holiday season—and the 2.7% growth for bricks-and-mortar retailers in November and December last year, according to ShopperTrak, which monitors traffic and sales at major malls and retail chains.

Deloitte gives credit for the projected growth to an uptick in several economic indicators. “Income, wage and job growth are positive indicators heading into the holiday season,” says Daniel Bachman, Deloitte’s senior U.S. economist.  “Debt levels remain at historical lows, and stock market gains coupled with increasing home prices have a wealth effect on consumers, which may encourage increased spending compared with prior years.  Although consumers are watching tensions unfold in the Middle East and Ukraine, the improvement in their economic situation should more than offset the foreign conflicts’ impact on consumer confidence and retail sales.  Despite recent events in energy-producing areas of the world, gas prices have held steady, which may also sustain consumers’ spending power.”

Deloitte defines the holiday shopping season as running from November through the early part of 2015, and says its projections exclude sales of motor vehicles and gasoline.

The Deloitte estimate stands as perhaps the earliest general projection for e-commerce holiday sales this year. Another recent projection, this one from eMarketer, comes across as more optimistic for e-retailers: It projects e-commerce growth for November and December at 16.6% this year, up from their estimate of 15.3% last year. Differences between estimates can at least be partly explained by the fact that periods covered by various forecasts and reports aren’t exactly the same.

The coming holiday season will have only 26 days between Black Friday and Christmas, just one more than last year and five fewer than 2012. Last year, U.S. consumers purchasing online spent at least $46.545 billion with online retailers during holiday season, up nearly 10.1% from $42.286 billion in 2012, according to web measurement firm comScore. Adding in mobile sales, comScore estimates the online shopping increase was about 12%, despite the shorter shopping season.

Signals from the country’s main shipping carriers would seem to reinforce the Deloitte projections—or, at the least, show a fear of fumbling on deliveries, as was the case last year for some carriers. United Parcel Service of America Inc., for instance, this month said it would have 10% more doors for loading delivery vans than during the 2013 holiday peak shopping period. UPS also will hire more seasonal workers this holiday season than was the case in 2013. Rival FedEx Corp., meanwhile, expects to hire 50,000 package handlers, helpers, drivers and other workers to help the shipping carrier get packages from e-retailers to online shoppers this holiday season.

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