Late surge boosts online holiday spending 29% over last year

Increased consumer confidence helped drive a last-minute surge in holiday spending online during the week of Christmas to $1.22 billion, comScore Networks reports. While this is less than half of levels recorded in the past two weeks, it represents an increase of 53% compared to the $795 spent during the corresponding week last year.

As a result of last week’s strong spending levels, online holiday season sales are now tracking at 29% over last year’s levels, the Reston, Virg.-based company’s holiday survey of two million consumers. Consumers have spent $14.8 billion dollars online between Nov. 1 and Dec. 26 compared to the $11.5 billion spent last year through Dec. 26. Online spending is on track to top $15.8 billion for the full holiday season.

In past years, e-commerce was not traditionally a major beneficiary of last-minute holiday buying. This year, however, a number of factors allowed online merchants to participate significantly in the late-season surge in spending:

* Local fulfillment: Retailers providing the ability to buy online and pick up in store, as well as those offering local delivery, were able to offer consumers last minute buying options through the first half of last week.

* Later shipping deadlines: Operational improvements at major retailers allowed consumers to buy early last week and still receive products in time for Christmas. For example, Dell offered free two-day shipping for computer purchases made as late as the Monday before Christmas.

* Gift cards: Gift cards have become an increasingly popular gift option. And because these gifts can be printed or delivered electronically, they were particularly popular last week.

* Offline product shortages: Widely reported shortages of popular gift products, such as Apple’s iPod, resulted in increased last-minute online purchasing of these products.

* Flower & gift basket purchases: The Flowers, Gifts & Greetings category has been the fastest growing product category this holiday season. Growth further accelerated last week as consumers turned to gift options that could be delivered on a same-day or next-day basis.

“The late surge in consumer spending that was widely observed at offline retail outlets came to benefit online retailers in an unprecedented way,” said Dan Hess, senior vice president, comScore Networks. “This trend shift has boosted the holiday season to become one of the strongest on record.”