- The Washington Times - Tuesday, January 1, 2008

Shoppers spent nearly $28 billion in online purchases this holiday, the smallest online sales increase on record, possibly reflecting consumers’ overall shopping attitude this season.

Online sales rose 19 percent over last year’s holiday period, between Nov. 1 and Dec. 26, according to ComScore Inc., a Reston online sales tracker. But in previous years, online sales rose by about 20 percent to 25 percent.

“Warm weather during the early part of November took its toll on online retail sales, and played a role in holding down the growth in spending over the entire holiday season to a 19 percent rate, which is below last year’s level of 26 percent,” said ComScore Chairman Gian Fulgoni.

He added that after Thanksgiving, sales picked up.

An early standout appears to be Amazon.com, which said last week that this holiday season has been its best in history.

Online sales have nowhere to go but up, as shoppers become more accustomed to and comfortable with shopping over the Internet. That’s expected to increase even more as sites add upgraded photos and graphics to make buying shoes or other clothes easier. However, the pace isn’t expected to increase at the same rate that online retailers first saw, of 25 percent or more per year, analysts say.

Online sales make up about 3 percent of total retail sales.

This year’s tempered increase also reflects what has been the overall shopping story of the season: People are spending money but holding a tighter grip on their wallet in light of rising gas prices, sinking consumer confidence and a sluggish housing market. The National Retail Federation has forecast that holiday sales in 2007 could increase by the smallest margin in five years.

But there are signs that online shoppers made up for any lack of pre-Christmas spending after the holidays.

On Dec. 26, online shoppers spent $545 million, more than double the sales recorded on Dec. 26 last year, according to ComScore.

“This would appear to indicate that consumers were willing, and able, to take advantage of the attractive late-season promotions and price discounts offered by retailers this year,” Mr. Fulgoni said.

Retailers such as Macy’s Inc., J.C. Penney Co. Inc. and Wal-Mart Stores Inc. offered deep post-Christmas savings.

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