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ONLINE HOLIDAY SPENDING BREAKS RECORD

Sales in Pre-Christmas Week Spiked 57% Over Same Week Last Year

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NEW YORK (AdAge.com) -- Online holiday shopping broke e-commerce records for sales growth this year, exceeding most analysts' earlier predictions.
A frenzy of online shopping during the week immediately preceeding Christmas drove sales up 57% higher than during the same week last year.
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Critical week
Overall, online merchants tallied sales increases of 19% to 29% over last year for the entire holiday shopping season.

And for the two critical weeks before Christmas, sales spiked more than 50% higher than during the same period last year, according to comScore Networks, which tracks consumer behavior and attitudes online. In past years, e-commerce has not been a major beneficiary of last-minute holiday buying. For Dec. 13-19, consumers spent 57% more than the same week in 2003, and for Dec. 20-26, they spent 53% more.

Meanwhile, bricks-and-mortar stores expected tiny overall holiday sales increases of between 3% and 5%.

Final talley awaited
With Christmas week figures yet to be crunched, different analysts pronounced varying online sales expectations, but all demonstrated strong growth. Jupitermedia Corp. had projected a 19% surge over last year for an overall online spending of $21.6 billion for the holiday buying season. Jupiter is sticking with that prediction, pending final numbers.

An eSpending report by Harris Interactive, Goldman, Sachs & Co. and Nielsen//NetRatings said online shoppers spent $16.7 billion for the first six weeks of the holiday season, a rise of 28% over the $13 billion spent online for that time frame in 2003. And comScore Networks had forecasted consumer spending of $15 billion but following the strong final shopping week, it said holiday season sales were tracking at 29% over last year's levels and were expected to top $15.8 billion for the full season (the months of November and December).

Top-growth categories
Top-growing categories during the last week of the buying season were flowers and gifts; computers; music; appliances and electronics; and video and games, according to Hitwise, which monitors consumer interaction with Web sites.

A confluence of factors, including increased consumer comfort online, the deeper penetration of broadband and marketers' own increasing sophistication with Web marketing, drove the skyrocketing spend, analysts said.

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