By and  on November 30, 2010

If Black Friday weekend sales at brick-and-mortar stores were good, then online sales were even better — and Cyber Monday maintained the momentum. Online retail sales from Thursday through Monday defied all expectations, with some retailers reporting increases of 200 to 300 percent.

Luxury in particular seems to be experiencing the biggest gains so far this holiday, yet whether at luxury or mass retailers, many of the online sales seemed to be spurred by promotions. At the same time, retailers reported a surge in full-price gift and holiday items.

Comscore forecasts 11 percent growth for 2010 holiday spending online. On Thanksgiving, online spending was up 28 percent versus a year ago, possibly spurred by mobile. Spending on Black Friday increased 9 percent compared with the same day a year ago, the firm said. For the holiday season starting Nov. 1 and ending Friday, sales were up 13 percent online for a total of $11.6 billion.

Meanwhile, the National Retail Federation reported one-third of holiday shoppers over the weekend bought online.

At luxury retailers, sales were timed to coincide with specific days, and they drove sales.

“We’re really excited, we are running up,” said Denise Incandela, president of Saks Direct. “As a percent we very well may have a record breaker.” As of late afternoon Monday, the online store was “close to 300 percent up over last year.”

However, the comparison is not apples to apples, since this year Saks broke its designer sale Monday and last year waited until Tuesday. Nonetheless, even comparing Monday this year with Tuesday last year, “we’re still way up,” she said. “We’re very pleased to the early start to the holiday. Traffic is way up, conversion is way up.”

Best-selling items Monday included holiday giftables and exclusives selling at full price, such as a New York snow globe, Tory Burch flats, an Yves Saint Laurent ring, a Valentino handbag, Uggs, candles, a Bobbi Brown palette, a Marc by Marc Jacobs scarf, texting-friendly gloves and Crème de la Mer skin cream.

Net-a-porter also launched its fall-winter sale Monday in the U.S., as it did the year previously. As of about noon New York time, “our numbers were in big growth mode,” said Alison Loehnis, Net-a-porter.com’s vice president of sales and marketing. “Overall our sales are up about 200 percent from last year.”

Initially, holiday wear such as dresses and jewelry were selling, followed by lingerie, coats and knits, she said.

But even without sales, retailers were still reporting strong gains Monday. At Neiman Marcus, sales were “more than we were expecting” said Gerald Barnes, president and chief executive of Neiman Marcus Direct.

“We’re up double digits over last year,” said a Neiman Marcus spokeswoman of the Black Friday weekend.

Instead of a seasonal sale, on Thursday, Neiman Marcus unveiled free shipping, free returns and free gift wrapping for the holidays. Friday through Monday the retailer has been running a promotion called “four surprises for you.” On Monday, a butterfly online treasure hunt awarded a variety of gift card values depending on purchase. The store plans to start its fall-winter sale later this week, said Barnes.

So far the best-selling category is boots, but gifts are also strong. “We’ve sold twice as many boots as we sold last year,” Barnes said. “It does seem like we’re selling a lot of gift items — earmuffs, we sold 1,000 chocolate chip cookie tins over the weekend, and 300 sets of champagne flutes.”

At GSI Commerce, which owns Rue La La and runs e-commerce sites for more than 100 retailers, including more than 30 apparel stores, “It’s been a really interesting online shopping holiday,” said Fiona Dias, executive vice president, strategy and marketing. “We saw business start to take off on Thanksgiving Day. Everybody who ran a business on Thanksgiving Day would tell you it was remarkably strong and much more than expected, ditto Black Friday sales were very strong, held up over the weekend, and Cyber Monday was coming through about where expected. It’s really been amazing how strong it’s been across the board.”

Brands include Rue La La, Calvin Klein, Kenneth Cole, Kate Spade, BCBG, Burberry, Aéropostale, Charlotte Russe, Betsey Johnson and Donna Karan.

Comparable-store sales for the 100 retailers that transact on its platform were up 25 percent in the third quarter, she said. So far, the service provider’s busiest moment was on Thanksgiving evening but that could change Monday night, she said. At 11:27 p.m. Thursday, the service had 797 orders.

Blue Nile chief executive Diane Irvine said, “The secular shift from physical stores to online shopping continues. On Black Friday, where historically traffic was light, we had record traffic and sales. Mobile shopping was an especially bright spot, with mobile traffic up more than 1,000 percent on Black Friday.”

Jewelry, boots and small leather goods were bestsellers on Endless.com, said a spokeswoman.

Endless started with midrange brands such as Jessica Simpson and Nine West and has gradually added higher-end brands such as Kate Spade and Loeffler Randall.

At Sears, best-selling categories online included electronics, tools and home, such as tool cabinets and mechanics’ tool sets ranging from $44 to $160. Plenty of customers placed orders online for in-store pickup.

“I can’t speak to specific sales but what I can share is that it seems more and more customers are more comfortable with the technology,” said Tom Aiello, divisional vice president of public relations at Sears Holdings. “They use the technology to shop around and find the best prices then when they’re ready have [free shipping].”

And this very well could be the holiday season mobile commerce makes a major breakthrough. Saks, Neiman’s and many other retailers introduced mobile sites this year. “We saw something on Thanksgiving Day we’ve never seen before,” said Dias of GSI. “On Thanksgiving Day, Rue La La saw 19 percent of sales happen on mobile devices. That’s a fifth of their orders. This time last year they were getting 2 percent of orders on mobile. On other sites in the rest of the e-commerce world that day, mobile commerce was about 3 percent.”

But the season wasn’t more promotional than usual, according to Shop it to Me, an online service that tracks discounts on clothing, shoes and accessories.

An analysis of more than 58,000 items from more than 75 online retailers showed that Cyber Monday discounts averaged 43 percent off, versus 47 percent off last year.

The biggest discounters were the pure plays, offering an average of 51 percent off, followed by specialty stores at 45 percent and then department stores at 39 percent off. (The service does not follow mass retailers or discounters such as TJ Maxx or Wal-Mart.)

Despite the somewhat brighter retail outlook given at the start of the holiday selling season, investors fretted over the $112 billion bailout for debt-laden Ireland and sold off stocks.

The S&P Retail Index slipped 0.7 percent, or 3.41 points, to 491.72, as the Dow Jones Industrial Average fell 0.4 percent, or 39.51 points, to 11,052.49. The Dow retreated below 11,000 before regaining some ground in the afternoon.

Quiksilver Inc. bucked the trend and rose 7.8 percent to $4.31 after the company said its fourth-quarter revenues would fall less than previously projected.

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