That number--an increase of about 40 percent from the same period last year--comes from shopping comparison site BizRate, which surveys consumers as they finish making purchases. BizRate has about 2,000 stores in its database.
The figures arrive amid a discouraging season for retail in general. Major retailers including Wal-Mart, Federated Department Stores and Kmart all noted that sales for the holiday season would be at the low end of their forecasts, or miss them altogether.
And even when they do shop, consumers are looking for, said Helen Malani, director of corporate communications at BizRate. She noted that 37 percent of shoppers surveyed last week said they were influenced by free-shipping deals.
"We've seen a lot of deals this year, and consumers have been responding," she said. "Consumers have been very deal-centric, and e-tailers and retailers have been offering a lot of deals for them."
Top categories this year include the stalwarts of online shopping: books, music and videos. Buthas made a strong showing, with consumers spending $1.83 billion online, a hair under the $1.86 billion for books, music and videos, between Nov. 2 and Dec. 13, according to a report from Nielsen/NetRatings, Harris Interactive and Goldman Sachs.
The rest of the top five was made up of travel, with $1.5 billion in sales; consumer electronics, with $1.2 billion; and toys and video games, with $1.19 billion.
"These top five categories cover nearly two-thirds of all consumers spending online, and e-tailers with a focus on these product categories are poised to benefit," Harris Interactive e-commerce research director Lori Iventosch-James said in a release.
Holiday shopping is being defined
by the outlet malls of Amazon, eBay.
Individual retailers have been reporting strong figures. Overstock.com said last week that sales in the first two weeks of December hit $16.6 million, up from $5.7 million in the previous year.
And Amazon.com's "Delight-o-meter," which tracks orders placed through the company's Web sites and through its partnerships, registered 55.4 million units as of Sunday, about 30 percent higher than a year ago at that time.
But while the holiday season gets people focused more on shopping, as Christmas gets closer, people spend more time out of the house or the office, and less time online. And most online retailers' deadline for Christmas shipping have no passed, meaning that online spending should start to decline.
Consumers hit the online stores early, said Carrie Johnson of Forrester Research, which has predicted that consumers would spend $9.5 billion online between Thanksgiving and Christmas. According to a Shop.org/BizRate study, one-third of online shoppers had finished or nearly finished their shopping by Dec. 3.
Deutsche Bank analyst Jeetil Patel noted that product listings at eBay U.S. last week fell by 10 percent week-over-week, erasing the 10 percent gain of the previous seven-day period. "We expect U.S. listings to decline next week in anticipation of Christmas, as both buyers and sellers spend time away from the Internet," he wrote.
And Pacific Crest analyst Steve Weinstein noted that, while Amazon's Delight-o-meter is showing strong sales, "a blowout is unlikely."