Did Thanksgiving and Black Friday online sales soar or slip?

Data from IBM and ComScore show strong growth in online sales. However, a report from the National Retail Federation says that shoppers actually spent less money online and in stores.

David Carnoy/CNET

How did online sales fare on Thanksgiving Day and Black Friday? The results are mostly positive, though shoppers now seem more willing to wait for the right deal.

Thanksgiving Day sales online rose 14.3 percent over those from 2013 , according to IBM's 2014 Black Friday report, released on Saturday. Online sales on Black Friday increased 9.5 percent from last year. However, the value of the average order on Thanksgiving was $125.25, down 1.8 percent from 2013, while the average order value on Black Friday was as $129.37, down 4.4 percent from last year.

Further, Black Friday sales were 63.5 percent higher than those on Thanksgiving Day. That figure was a decline from 2013 when those sales were 70 percent higher, a sign that Thanksgiving Day online sales ate into those for Black Friday, according to IBM.

"This trend may indicate that shoppers are becoming more comfortable and digitally savvy in how they use online coupons and rebates to secure the best bargains," IBM said in its report.

Retailers count on holiday shopping for a healthy percentage of their sales for the year. Toward that end, many of them have been trying to lure customers with special sales, promotions and rebates that offer deep discounts on popular products. But IBM's findings indicate that buyers aren't necessarily jumping at every deal they find and may hunt around more than they have in previous years.

Marketers themselves may also be getting the message by sending fewer promotional emails. For this Black Friday, retailers sent an average of 5.3 emails on Black Friday, down 11 percent from last year. The numbers that indicate when a person opens such a promotional email and clicks on a link were also down from last year for both Thanksgiving and Black Friday.

Buyers also are using their smartphones to shop around but their tablets to buy. Smartphones accounted for 34.7 percent of all Black Friday Web traffic, compared with 14.6 percent for tablets, IBM said in its report. But tablets drove 16 percent of actual online sales, compared with 11.8 percent for smartphones.

Desktop users were also quite busy spending money online, according to research firm ComScore. Online spending via desktops jumped 32 percent to just over a record $1 billion on Thanksgiving Day and soared even further to $1.51 billion on Black Friday.

"Thanksgiving and Black Friday both saw exceptionally strong online growth rates as each day surpassed $1 billion in desktop spending," ComScore Chairman Gian Fulgoni said in a statement. "The strength we saw in the early online buying rush likely reflects a few things, including overall health in consumer spending, responsiveness to the strong deals being offered online, and perhaps some shoppers opting to stay home on Thanksgiving rather than head out to the stores that opened their doors early. Regardless of the particular drivers, it's clear that the online holiday rush is getting off to a very good start and is reason for optimism as we get into the heart of the buying season."

However, the news was not all that cheery when you factor in both online and in-store sales, according to the National Retail Federation. In survey results released Sunday, the NRF found that the average person who had shopped or would shop over the holiday weekend would spend $380.95, down 6.4 percent from $407.02 last year. Overall spending was forecast to reach $50.9 billion, down from last year's estimated $57.4 billion, a drop of 11 percent.

The average person shopping strictly online over the entire stretch from Thursday through Sunday planned to spend $159.55, down 10.2 percent from $177.67 last year, according to the NRF. Still, the NRF's numbers were based on estimates from a preliminary survey rather than actual sales figures. Conducted on Friday and Saturday by Prosper Insights & Analytics for the NRF, the survey reached 4,631 consumers. So it's difficult to know how accurate and total a picture it portrays.

Analysts for the NRF still anticipate a merry holiday-shopping season with sales in November and December -- excluding those for automobiles, gas and restaurants -- forecast to rise by 4.1 percent to $616.9 billion, according to The New York Times. But retailers will likely face a tough time drawing in enough consumers throughout the full season.

"It's going to be a dogfight for the entire season every day, every minute," NRF President Matthew Shay told the Times. "Holiday sales are now a marathon, not a sprint."

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