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Online holiday sales climb but miss mark

January 08, 2014

Reston, Va.--Retail e-commerce spending from desktop computers hit $46.5 billion in November and December, increasing 10 percent over last year but falling short of the $48 billion forecast, according to data released Tuesday by digital metrics firm comScore.

Cyber Monday (Dec. 2) saw the highest amount of desktop spending during the two-month period, increasing 18 percent to $1.74 billion and setting a new record for the day. 

It was followed by Tuesday, Dec. 3 at $1.41 billion and then Monday, Dec. 9 at $1.4 billion. Black Friday came in at fifth for total desktop spending at $1.2 billion, up 15 percent.

For the 2013 holiday season, accessories and apparel was the top-gaining product category in desktop spending, increasing by 13 percent and outpacing consumer electronics by a small margin. Rounding out the top five product categories were computer hardware, toys and hobbies, and video game consoles and accessories.

Despite the gain in spending, the numbers did fall short of comScore’s prediction that online sales from desktop computers would grow 14 percent to $48.1 billion, with softness due mainly to the “compressed holiday calendar.”

“Although the 2013 holiday season fell short of our initial forecast, it still performed very well in certain regards,” said comScore chairman Gian Fulgoni. “Achieving a double-digit growth rate while significantly outperforming the growth of brick-and-mortar retail by a factor of at least two is noteworthy, particularly considering the inherent challenges in this unusual holiday season.”

He added that shoppers had fewer weeks to shop between Thanksgiving and Christmas, and though they made up for it to some extent on the weekends, “fewer workdays provided a headwind for the season that ultimately proved very challenging to overcome.”

“That said, it should also be noted that many consumers continue to be challenged economically, which forced retailers to offer large price discounts in an attempt to stimulate demand. Unfortunately, this also had the effect of reducing total dollar sales since consumers could buy more for less,” he said.

In addition to the comScore data, IBM recently released its Digital Analytics Benchmark findings, which analyzes 800 e-commerce sites in the United States, for the fourth quarter. 

According to the report, total online sales for the months of October, November and December were up more than 10 percent over last year.

IBM didn’t break down the data by month, but earlier numbers released throughout the holiday season suggest that the fourth quarter results were helped along by strong online sales over the Thanksgiving weekend: online sales were up 20 percent on Thanksgiving Day, 19 percent on Black Friday, and 21 percent on Cyber Monday, according to IBM.

Mobile shopping accounted for nearly 35 percent of all online traffic in the three-month period. Mobile sales were also strong, reaching 17 percent of all online sales and increasing a total of 46 percent year-over-year.

The trend of consumers using smartphones to browse but tablets to purchase was prevalent during the period--smartphones drove more than 21 percent of traffic, almost double that of tablets at 13 percent. However, tablets drove almost 12 percent of sales while smartphones were only at 5 percent.

IBM also measured a number of subcategories during the quarter, and reported that fourth quarter online sales at department stores grew 63 percent over the year-earlier period, while health and beauty was up by 15 percent, home goods were up 46 percent and apparel was up 10 percent.