Online Spending Keeps Up Torrid Pace

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It seems like we get new data every day reinforcing the message that online shopping (and spending) is better than ever this year. While we don’t know yet if this is poaching sales from traditional brick-and-mortar retailers, it’s a reasonable conclusion that it is.

Research firm comScore Inc. (NASDAQ: SCOR) reported on Wednesday that retail sales from desktop computers is up 21% year over year since Thanksgiving Day. The total spend so far is $37.8 billion since November 1st with more than half — $19.2 billion — rolling in since Thanksgiving. In the most recent week there were 5 days when spending topped $1 billion a day and one additional day when spending came in just $16 million short of $1 billion.

comScore notes an especially big jump for weekend sales. For the three weekends (including Black Friday weekend) so far this year, sales are up 47% while weekday sales are up a still impressive 13%.

The research firm suggests a few reasons for the surge in weekend shopping. First, the shorter shopping period between Thanksgiving and Christmas is driving consumers to increase their spending on the weekends. Second, the shortened shopping season is encouraging consumers to shop from their homes rather than fight mall crowds and cash register lines. Third, showrooming has increased and more shoppers are comfortable with examining a product in a retail store and then making the purchase online.

Another possible reason is that the weather has not been cooperative in parts of the heavily populated Midwest and Northeast U.S., making it a lot easier and more comfortable to shop from the living room than to battle with the snow and cold. If store traffic is down, though, steeper discounts may be on the agenda for the final weekend and crowds could swell again in retail stores, regardless of the weather. Retail store traffic was down nearly 20% last weekend according to ShopperTrak.

One final reason for the surge in online spending is that big online sellers like Amazon.com Inc. (NASDAQ: AMZN) and eBay Inc. (NASDAQ: EBAY) have also been running a lot of promotional programs and offering free shipping and other inducements to online shoppers. Wal-Mart Stores Inc. (NYSE: WMT) launched a “Gold Monday” promotion on its website earlier this week with price cuts of 40% or more on some items.

Online shopping could cool off some this weekend, though, because express shipping costs to get items before the holiday may turn off some buyers. That depends, of course, on who the gift is for.

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