17.2 Million Consumers Keyboarded Their Way to the Store

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A correction has been made in this story. See below for details.

NEW YORK ( -- Record numbers of consumers never left their homes on Black Friday, the official start of the holiday shopping season. Instead, they poured online in far greater numbers than last year, according to research released by Nielsen/NetRatings.

Photo: AP
Twenty-nine percent more people than last year spent this year's Black Friday shopping online instead of driving to bricks-and-mortar retail facilities.
Vital component
Some 17.2 million unique visitors to more than 100 online retailers the day after Thanksgiving -- 29 percent more than last year’s Black Friday -- prove that the Web has become a vital component of Americans’ shopping preparations.

While many shoppers headed out to the stores over the weekend, the majority first turned to the Internet to check prices and product availability, reported Heather Dougherty, senior retail analyst, Nielsen/NetRatings.

Ebay top destination
Ebay was the top online retailer over the weekend, with 9.5 million unique visitors. Next in traffic was Amazon with 4.6 million and Wal-Mart Stores, which drew 3.4 million. Target was next with 2.9 million, and attracted 2.1 million. These were the top online shopping destinations last year on Black Friday as well. But there were also newcomers in this year’s top 10:, Dell and

The fastest-growing retail category online on Black Friday was toys and video games, with a 152% week-over-week growth (daily percent change from Nov. 18 to Nov. 25). This sector was fueled by the release of the Xbox 360 and portable game consoles. Next was consumer electronics, which climbed 142%, followed by computer hardware/software with 102% growth. Among the hottest consumer electronics and computer products this year are flat-screen TVs, iPods and other MP3 players, Ms. Dougherty said.

High fuel prices
One reason for brisk online sales is rising fuel costs that make shopping from home easier on the budget. Another reason is that online retailers have inundated consumers with special promotions this year, in what Ms. Dougherty calls “a deluge” of free shipping, sales, gifts with purchase and more. “It definitely seems far stronger than ever before,” she said.

Additional growth in traffic is expected today, “cyber Monday,” the Monday after Thanksgiving. “Their e-mail inboxes are filled with promotions, so it makes sense that they will at least go to sites to check them out,” she added.

The Nielsen/NetRatings Holiday eShopping Index is comprised of 100 online retailers across 10 categories, whose online traffic figures and other data are studied and released throughout the holiday season.

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CORRECTION: The original version of this story incorrectly reported that 7.4 million shoppers visited top shopping sites on Black Friday. But, in fact, some 17.2 million unique visitors went to the top 100 retailers' sites that day.

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