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Sunday, December 4, 2011

A Record-Setting Week for Online Holiday Sales

Online sales for the first full week of what is considered the true holiday shopping season grew 15 percent to a record $5.96 billion, according to comScore, a firm that measures digital data.

The week from November 28 (“Cyber Monday”) to December 2 had three individual days that saw more than $1 billion in online spending, led by Cyber Monday, which was the heaviest online spending day on record at $1.25 billion. November 29 reached $1.12 billion and November 30 reached $1.03 billion. These three billion dollar spending days currently rank as three of the four heaviest online spending days in history.

For the holiday season-to-date (November 1 – December 2 as measured by the Reston, Va.-based company), $18.7 billion has been spent online, a 15-percent increase versus the corresponding days last year.

“As the deals from this week expire, it will be important to see the degree to which consumers return to the same retailers to continue their holiday shopping, thereby helping improve retailers’ profit margins, or if we experience a pullback in consumer spending—which has occurred in previous years—before promotional offers and spending intensity pick back up in earnest around mid-December,” said comScore chairman Gian Fulgoni.

One of the most prevalent holiday season promotions used by online retailers is free shipping, which typically peaks around the Cyber Monday period. More than half of all transactions have included free shipping with rates increasing later into the season, comScore said. The week of Thanksgiving (week ending Nov. 27) saw free shipping occur on 64.4 percent of transactions, while this past week maintained a similar level at 63.2 percent. In each case, these rates were approximately 10 percentage points higher than last year.

“Free shipping is one of the most important incentives that online retailers must provide during the holiday season to ensure that shoppers will convert into buyers,” Fulgoni said.

More than one-third of respondents (36 percent) indicated that free shipping was “very important” and that they would not make a purchase without it, according to comScore’s annual holiday shopping survey. An additional 42 percent said that free shipping was “somewhat important” and that they actively seek out free shipping deals. Only 15 percent of respondents indicated that free shipping was not particularly influential in their purchase decision.

Cyber Monday is a marketing term created in 2005 by online retailers after learning that online shopping activity increased the Monday following Black Friday.