Online Holiday Sales are Flat

For the November – December 2008 holiday season through Dec. 14, $20.17 billion has been spent online, essentially the same level compared to the corresponding days last year, according to digital tracking company comScore.

For the fourteen days beginning Dec. 1, sales totaled $9 billion, up 2 percent versus year ago. However, the most recent week ending Dec. 14) saw e-commerce sales decline 2 percent, a sign that consumers have once again moderated their spending, according to the Reston, Va.-based company.

“It appears that the spending surge we saw immediately following Thanksgiving has given way to more moderate buying during the most recent week,” said comScore chairman Gian Fulgoni. “The current week will be particularly crucial to the overall performance of the season, as we expect to see heavy spending during the final days of online buying that qualify for guaranteed delivery by Christmas.”

Retailers offered a flurry of free shipping deals during the weeks of Thanksgiving and then the following week, which included Cyber Monday (Dec. 1) promotions. Each of these weeks saw average order values climb significantly and positive spending growth versus year ago, according to comScore. However, when some retailers pulled back on free shipping deals during the most recent week (ending Dec. 14), average order values declined and the week experienced negative growth versus year ago.

“Over the past few years, free shipping has emerged as a critically important incentive for online shoppers, and its importance has been magnified in the current retail environment,” said Fulgoni. “The most recent week has shown retailers that now is not the time to pull back on the offers that are successfully persuading consumers to spend. Fortunately, the final full week of online holiday shopping will feature an array of attractive free shipping deals, including the industry’s promotion of Friday, Dec. 18 as “free shipping day,” the final day for consumers to place their orders with guaranteed delivery by Christmas Eve. Consumers will hopefully respond by once again opening their wallets to help this challenging season end on a high note.”