NEW YORK — Apparel ran a virtual dead heat with books for the most popular product purchased online in November, as 5.2 percent of cybershoppers spent $1.6 billion for clothing they bought the e-way, up 33 percent from $1.2 billion a year ago.

Those figures were revealed Tuesday in a holiday eSpending report by Goldman, Sachs & Co., Harris Interactive and Nielsen/NetRatings, which found those apparel purchases amounted to roughly one-fifth of consumers’ $8.5 billion in online spending, excluding travel, last month. That $8.5 billion marked a 55 percent surge over spending of $5.5 billion in November 2002, as 51 percent of Internet users began holiday shopping online in November, up from 43 percent a year earlier.

But consumers might not maintain that spending momentum this month, observed Lori Iventosch-James, director of e-commerce research at Harris Interactive. “I’m a little conservative,” she said. “I wouldn’t be surprised if the proportion of holiday spending was weighted less heavily toward December than last year, when it accounted for 60 percent of people’s combined online purchasing in November and December.”

Harris Interactive is forecasting spending online in November and December will tally $20 billion, up 50 percent from $13.34 billion in the prior-year period.

It was surprising, said Abha Bhagat, senior analyst at Nielsen/NetRatings, that so many Internet users began holiday shopping online in November and subsequently fueled the heady spending increase. Asked what spurred the action, Bhagat replied, “In the early part of the season, people talk about low prices and product availability; later in the season they talk about convenience.”

On a dollar-volume basis, apparel drew the most online spending of a handful of categories tracked in the November eSpending report, followed by toys and video game hardware and software, which drew combined expenditures of $875 million, in transactions made by 3.8 percent of online shoppers. That represented a 32 percent leap over spending in the prior-year period.Meanwhile, 5.3 percent of online shoppers bought books, resulting in sales of $761 million, up 61 percent over spending in the category during November 2002.

The November eSpending results were based on a random nationwide sample of more than 4,700 online shoppers.

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