Web retail a bright spot in tepid U.S. holiday season

SAN FRANCISCO Wed Dec 2, 2009 11:23pm IST

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SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) - U.S. online shoppers spent 5 percent more this Cyber Monday than they did last year as more consumers flocked to the Web for holiday shopping but spent slightly less per person, analytics firm comScore Inc said on Wednesday.

Shares of Internet retailers edged higher after the release of the positive results for the day when office workers return to their jobs after the long Thanksgiving holiday weekend and shop online for gifts.

The online results, which comScore dubbed "encouraging," contrasted with ho-hum data from brick-and-mortar retailers for the Thanksgiving weekend.

ComScore said November 30 was the strongest Cyber Monday in terms of sales since the term was coined five years ago. While sales per person declined, total sales matched those reported for December 9, 2008, the heaviest online spending day on record.

U.S. shoppers spent $887 million online on Monday, comScore said. The day is known for deep discounts -- advertised via email, social networks and online -- and comes on the heels of Black Friday, the day after Thanksgiving and the traditional start to the holiday shopping season in stores.

Also on Wednesday, ShopperTrak said that brick-and-mortar retailers saw a 1.6 percent rise in sales during the holiday weekend to $20.5 billion, above the 0.9 percent gain in 2008.

The modest results point to a slow start to the 2009 holiday shopping season as consumers fret over rising unemployment and a still-weak economy. Many U.S. retailers report November sales data on Wednesday and Thursday of this week.

Last year, the holiday shopping season kicked off amid an escalating global financial meltdown in which consumers dramatically curtailed spending.

Industry groups have offered a mixed bag of expectations for this holiday season, with some expecting a small decline in retail sales and others predicting sales will rise modestly.

AGGRESSIVE MARKETING

Although growth of online sales outpaced growth of sales at traditional stores, total Web retail sales were still just a small portion of the overall retail pie.

Shop.org, the online arm of the National Retail Federation, noted a shift in online shopping patterns this year, with more consumers logging on from home. Unlike previous years, the group found the most traffic and sales occurring in the early morning hours and evening, rather than during work hours.

ComScore, however, said the use of home computers slipped 0.9 percent, while the percentage of people using work computers climbed 2.3 percent.

ComScore said November online sales -- which include both Black Friday and Cyber Monday -- rose 3 percent to $12.26 billion.

"We've seen an encouraging start to the online holiday shopping season and it would appear that retailers' aggressive and early marketing efforts have so far succeeded in persuading consumers to open their wallets online," comScore Chairman Gian Fulgoni said in a statement.

Online shoppers spent $102.19 per person, or 1.5 percent less than they did last year, although the number of shoppers rose 6 percent to 8.7 million, according to the company.

Shares of Amazon.com, the largest online retailer, rose 2.8 percent to $142.40 in midday trading on the Nasdaq.

Online jeweler Blue Nile rose nearly 2 percent to $59.75 on the Nasdaq, and Wal-Mart Stores Inc, which has been beefing up its online unit to better compete with Amazon and others, rose 9 cents to $54.84 on the New York Stock Exchange.

(Additional reporting by Phil Wahba and Brad Dorfman; Editing by Gerald E. McCormick and Steve Orlofsky)