Brick-and-mortar stores might be having a tough time this holiday season, but the online juggernaut continues.

While early projections were that growth in online sales overall would slow this holiday, anecdotal reports said sales on so-called Cyber Monday were strong, while actual sales data showed a big uptick over the weekend.

Sales took a leap on Thanksgiving and climbed steadily through Sunday. comScore data reported a 2 percent increase over last year for Thanksgiving and Black Friday combined, for a total of $822 million spent on both days. The Chase index of 25 of the largest Internet retailers showed sales steadily increasing over the weekend from $66.7 million on Thanksgiving day to $124.3 million Sunday, versus $91.4 million on the equivalent Sunday last year.

Aggregate sales data for Monday won’t be available until later this week, but online retailers reported strong sales into the early evening, despite news that the U.S. economy has been in a recession since December 2007 and a nearly 700-point drop in the stock market. Despite stronger-than-expected sales through Black Friday weekend, retail shares saw their biggest one-day percentage decline ever.

Sales volume increased on average about 10 percent during the period before Thanksgiving, according to Forrester, based on Chase’s index. Online holiday spending by dollar value, however, was down 4 percent versus the same period last year for the first 28 days of the holiday season, according to comScore.

“The Saturday and Sunday numbers Chase reported were incredibly strong, especially given what everyone was anticipating,” said Sucharita Mulpuru, an analyst with Forrester Research Inc. “And, given the number of offers retailers have pushed out, which is a ton of offers, we should see a pretty strong Monday. Just anecdotally, I have heard things were OK.”

At the National Retail Federation’s aggregation site for sales and deals, called cybermonday.com, traffic was at more than 2 million by about 5 p.m., compared with 1.5 million visitors last year, said Kimathi Marangu, co-founder of Mall Networks, which runs the site and others like it for clients such as Delta and Chase. “We’ve seen strong growth from last year,” he said.

The site features constantly changing discounts from 623 retailers. Free shipping is most popular, and visitors have also shown interest in GPS devices and games such as the Nintendo Wii, he said. “In the past, Cyber Monday has been a great kickoff to the online shopping holiday season. So far [traffic] has been strong, but it’s too early in the season in the current environment to accurately plot the data points out for the whole season,” he said.

Jim Griffith, a marketplace expert with eBay Inc., characterized Cyber Monday traffic as “good,” although he cautioned that the online auction giant would get a better idea of the results when it is enumerated today. “What we are seeing is encouraging, especially after the dire predictions by most industry analysts,” he said. He noted that the busiest day of the holiday shopping season for eBay is typically not Cyber Monday, but Green Monday, the second Monday of December, or this year, Dec. 8.

“Like most other retailers, we were uncertain going into the season. It is no secret these are unprecedented economic times,” said Griffith. “Based on what we are seeing so far, we are guardedly optimistic that this could turn into a good holiday season if the trends continue leading into Green Monday.”

Melissa Payner, chief executive officer of Bluefly, said it was apparent by midafternoon Monday that the off-price Web site was tracking an increase over last Cyber Monday. “It’s always been a strong day since we started calling it Cyber Monday. We are trending ahead of last year.”

“I’d be shocked if there is not at least double-digit growth of 10 percent over last year,” said Mulpuru. “I’m optimistic. In such difficult times when there has been so much negative news out there, this Cyber Monday is a glimmer of hope that the season will actually turn out OK and not be a lump of coal in everybody’s stocking,” she said.

The trend on Monday appeared to maintain the momentum that began building last week. Nielsen Online reported that eBay was the top online retail destination on Black Friday, with a unique audience of nearly 9.9 million, a 7 percent increase from 2007. Both on Black Friday and Cyber Monday, consumer electronics was the most popular category on the site, with the Wii at an average selling price of $349, and Garmin Nuvi GPS, at an average selling price of $258, being hot items, said Griffith. In apparel, accessories and shoes, Ugg boots were brisk sellers, a phenomenon Griffith said has been ongoing for more than a year on eBay-owned comparison shopping site Shopping.com.

But, like at brick-and-mortar stores, consumers were seeking bargains and e-tailers were responding with more promotions than ever. The home page of fashion site Net-a-porter, for example, proclaimed “Sale” in big letters. EBay initiated various deals and promotions for the season. In the $1 Holiday Doorbusters promotion, bidders vie for merchandise such as a $50,000 Chevrolet Corvette C6 Coupe on Cyber Monday listed for $1. EBay also has been spotlighting goods that can be bought with no shipping fees.

“Definitely this holiday season, they are looking for deals,” said Griffith of eBay users, adding that most haven’t finished their holiday shopping yet. “People who shop on- and off-line don’t do so all at once. They usually spread it out over a period of a few weeks at the very least. The longer the wait, the better deals you get. That could be very much the case this year.”

Online jewelry retailer Blue Nile premiered a promotion for this holiday season called “Blue Nile Daily Gem,” during which it unveils a discounted item daily, including a $2,950 three-carat diamond eternity bracelet that was sold for $1,900 on Cyber Monday. “We are always looking for ways to speak to our customer and provide value to them,” explained Blue Nile ceo Diane Irvine. “We generally do that in the form of our pricing, but we felt that it would be fun for the holidays to do this, and it helps during this time when people are really looking for value.”

While not disclosing sales or traffic counts, Irvine described herself as “happy” about Blue Nile’s business on Cyber Monday and during the Thanksgiving holiday. “I always feel like the holiday peak is so uncertain, and this year, because it is shorter and we have all of the financial issues, I just think we are going to be very cautious about making any reads day to day,” she said. “We are very well positioned from a competitive standpoint.…We are dealing with an environment that for retailers is the most difficult environment for a generation. We can’t overemphasize that. If someone is in the market for a diamond ring or a piece of jewelry, they should all be coming here because we offer a great price. I feel really great about that. The larger question is, how will consumers behave?”

Blue Nile, which last year saw 35 percent of its yearly revenues generated in the fourth quarter, the most popular time of the year for engagements, has broadened its selection of vintage-inspired settings mostly ranging from $1,000 to $3,000 this holiday season due to increased interest in vintage styles. Among other items that are performing well on the site are eternity bands that run roughly from $600 to $10,000. Blue Nile’s average ticket is $1,500 to $1,800.

Asked about consumer holiday shopping behavior, Irvine said: “The last couple of years we have noticed a trend toward shoppers being more last minute. What we have seen this year on the engagement side is that people are getting engaged, but the diamond might not be their priority. They may get the diamond later or buy a band. Value certainly is resonating with the consumer.”

Bluefly’s Payner said she expected the strong selling trends seen over the Black Friday weekend, in outerwear, cashmere sweaters and contemporary handbags, to continue through Cyber Monday.

She characterized Cyber Monday as among the top 10 volume days of the year for Bluefly, with bigger days occurring in two peaks — around Dec. 10 and 11 and again on Dec. 17 and 18. She theorized that Dec. 10 and 11 remain big, since some Internet shoppers are still in the habit of shopping relatively early from the time they may not have trusted Internet sites to ship on time for Christmas delivery. Many Internet customers have become comfortable with waiting and shop later, she added.

This year, Bluefly, which offers 40 percent off regular prices, offered an extra 15 percent off anything on the Web site on Cyber Monday. Last year, it was 10 percent. “We have a lot more competition with full-price retailers this year,” Payner said, explaining the reason for the increase in the discount.

Bluefly also offers “a deal a day” after Thanksgiving, whether it’s a bigger percent off on shoes on Wednesday, or with handbags on Thursday.

“We are very promotional this time of year,” Payner said.

Buy.com reported that revenues and orders were up more than 40 percent compared with last year on Black Friday, its biggest sales day since it was founded. (Numbers for Monday were not yet available.)

Retailers such as Pottery Barn and Talbots were loading discounts on top of free shipping on top of gifts-with-purchase. “It’s one of those ‘sales you can’t refuse’ type of scenarios,” Mulpuru said. Pottery Barn touted free monogramming on select items. Talbots offered 30 percent off everything as well as free shipping, and Wal-Mart advertised “CyberWeek specials” in an e-mail, which promised a Guitar Hero bundle for $269, a girls’ bike with safety helmet for $49 and a $246 GPS from Garmin.

“This is really the beginning of the online holiday shopping season for all intents and purposes,” said Mulpuru. Usually, Cyber Monday will turn out to be the biggest shopping day of the year so far, but there will be other bigger days later in the shopping season, she said. Generally there are big peaks on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday of every week until Christmas.

At Ylang 23, a Dallas retailer that has sold designer jewelry online since 2001, Web sales are still rising, but not as steeply as previous years, said owner Joanne Teichman.

“The Web business is doing fine but not growing as much as the store,” she said. “The best part is full margins — we are not caught in the markdowns crossfire.”

Though nothing on the site is discounted, Ylang 23 offered its first gift-with-purchase on Cyber Monday, a $55 beaded purse free with a $500 order.

“We threw in that promotion to cut through all the clutter with sales and ‘take additional off’ that has turned into an online battle,” Teichman said. “We’ve never done this before, and the response has been terrific.”

Average orders on the Web are up 30 percent this year to $1,200 over $920 last year, she noted. The site did almost $3 million in sales for the fiscal year ended in September, while the store at Galleria Dallas reaped more than $5 million.

“I woke up to an order that came in last night for a $6,000 Gurhan necklace,” Teichman said. “That’s a nice way to start the month.”

Bestsellers include Cathy Waterman’s gold Muse charm necklaces, Ten Thousand Things’ pearl earrings, Arunashi’s gold bangles, Heather Moore’s personalized gold charms and Annette Ferdinandsen’s earrings.

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