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Storm Boosts Holiday Spending Online

ComScore reports 4.9% e-commerce growth for seasons.

When the weather outside was frightful, shoppers found online shopping delightful.

ComScore Inc. reported Wednesday that, during the stormy weekend of Dec. 19 and 20, online sales increased 13.3 percent, to $767 million from $677 million during the comparable weekend in 2008. The challenging weather conditions in the Northeast and Middle Atlantic during the final weekend before Christmas kept many U.S. shoppers indoors and online, helping to boost e-commerce sales for the period between Nov. 1 and Dec. 24 to $27.12 billion, 4.9 percent higher than the $25.85 billion spent online during the 2008 holiday season.

Adjusting for an extra shopping day this year, comScore put the year-on-year increase at a more modest 3.5 percent, but that’s still more than a 6 point swing from the 3 percent decline registered for holiday 2008 versus the 2007 season.

Not all of the data shared by comScore was positive. The Reston, Va.-based digital research firm noted that, while there was an increase in the number of people buying online this year, the amount spent per buyer dropped slightly.

Consumer electronics appeared to be the biggest beneficiary of this year’s surge in online shopping, with increases of over 20 percent.

Jewelry and watches also excelled following a particularly difficult performance in 2008. While comScore didn’t provide specific figures on the category, earlier it reported that, in November, sales of e-commerce sites offering jewelry, accessories and luxury goods saw the number of their unique visitors rise 15.2 percent to 17.7 million from 15.3 million in October.

“The season featured a strong start as a result of early retailer promotions and a very strong finish helped by the snowstorms that occurred the weekend of Dec. 19 and 20, retailers’ willingness to offer free shipping later in the season and consumers’ confidence in expedited shipping arriving in time,” said Gian Fulgoni, chairman of comScore. “This was also a year when retailers substantially boosted their use of social network marketing and the larger retailers significantly outperformed their smaller brethren.”

Consistent with the latter trend, comScore said earlier that department store e-commerce sites experienced a 29.9 percent increase in unique visitors last month, to 80.8 million from 62.2 million. Kohl’s Corp., Wal-Mart Stores Inc., Target Corp., Sears Holdings Corp., J.C. Penney Co. Inc. and Macy’s Inc. were among the broadlines retailers with traffic increases of at least 34 percent. Kohl’s was up 59.1 percent, highest among stores carrying apparel, and Wal-Mart’s 55.1 percent increase included a 62 percent monthly growth rate at walmart.com.

“In these tough economic times, the retailers with sufficient financial resources and a willingness to invest in aggressive marketing and free shipping offers were clear winners,” Fulgoni concluded.

ComScore disclosed earlier this week that online sales were up 11.4 percent on Black Friday, Nov. 27, to $595 million, and up 6.4 percent, to $887 million, on Cyber Monday, Nov. 30. However, volume on those days was surpassed by the $913 million transacted online on Tuesday, Dec. 15, when sales were up 21.1 percent. Internet shoppers spent $854 million online on Green Monday, Dec. 14, a 0.6 percent decline more than offset by business on the following day.

On Thanksgiving Day, receipts tallied $318 million, 10.4 percent ahead of the prior year.