Online holiday spending sees big gains

Online retailers witnessed a longer buying season, more buyers and an increase in spending in 2006. Photos: Unwrapping top online gifts

Candace Lombardi
In a software-driven world, it's easy to forget about the nuts and bolts. Whether it's cars, robots, personal gadgetry or industrial machines, Candace Lombardi examines the moving parts that keep our world rotating. A journalist who divides her time between the United States and the United Kingdom, Lombardi has written about technology for the sites of The New York Times, CNET, USA Today, MSN, ZDNet, Silicon.com, and GameSpot. She is a member of the CNET Blog Network and is not a current employee of CNET.
Candace Lombardi
3 min read
Online shoppers spent more and ordered later during the 2006 holiday season, according to new statistics.

The record for single-day online sales at U.S. sites was broken on December 11 at $661 million, according to comScore Networks. That record was then broken two days later, with $667 million spent online on December 13. In 2005, the record was $556 million spent on December 12.

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Growth in online spending was up about 26 percent overall from 2005, according to comScore Networks. The company analyzed whether the growth was in the number of buyers or the dollars spent per buyer. It determined that approximately 17 percent was due to an increase in buyers and about 7 percent was attributable to the dollars spent per buyer, according to Andrew Lipsman, a senior analyst at comScore.

The strongest growth came in the jewelry and watches category, which saw a 66 percent increase in the amount of money being spent, followed by video games, event tickets and video game consoles, said comScore in a report. Apparel and accessories, at 33 percent, showed the least growth.

"We noticed a change in high-ticket categories like jewelry, specifically items like watches and in-excess-of-$10,000 diamond rings. People are really willing to purchase these high-ticket items over the Internet now," Lipsman said.

Many online retailers extended their guaranteed shipping date (the last date eligible for an item to arrive in time for Christmas), and shoppers appear to have taken them up on that offer. There was a marked increase in sales between December 16 through 18, compared with those same dates in 2005, suggesting that people have increased trust in online retailers' ability to deliver goods on time, according to comScore.

The move essentially extended the online holiday shopping season, giving online retailers more time to compete with brick-and-mortar stores for purchases.

Cyber Monday, the Monday after Thanksgiving--rumored to be the biggest online shopping day--turned out to be a myth. It ranked 12th among U.S. retail sites, with online shoppers spending about $608 million on that day, according to comScore. The company does not include travel, auctions or large corporate purchases in its holiday retail spending statistics.

In terms of the number of online transactions, MasterCard ranked December 11 as the busiest shopping day. Amazon did as well, saying it sold over 4 million items on that day. MasterCard had three other Mondays ranked in the top five as of its mid-season analysis; it ranked "Cyber Monday" as the fourth busiest online shopping day in terms of transactions.

Top online retailers
Research analyst comScore also ranked the most successful online retailers for 2006.

Amazon.com came in first in terms of dollars spent between November 1 and December 26, the holiday shopping season. Dell.com, Yahoo.com and Walmart.com came in second, third and fourth, respectively. They were followed by Ticketmaster.com, JCPenney.com, Apple.com, BestBuy.com, VictoriasSecret.com and CircuitCity.com.

In terms of growth in sales between 2005 and 2006, however, BestBuy.com was No. 1 and Walmart.com was No. 2, according to comScore.

Both online and in stores, LCD TVs were the most popular consumer technology retail items for 2006, with consumers spending a total of $924 million on them, according to the NPD Group. Digital cameras, notebook computers and MP3 players followed as the next biggest selling consumer technology items. Plasma TVs came in fifth at $393 million. Those top five categories made up over 42 percent of total volume for consumer technology sales. In 2005, items were more diverse, with the top five only representing 33 percent of overall volume.

Amazon.com released its own statistics recently on popular holiday items. Not surprisingly, the most popular electronics item was the Apple iPod in various models. The most popular PCs purchased from the online superstore were the 13.3-inch Apple MacBook in white and black, and the Sony Vaio 15.4-inch notebook. In the category of computers and video games, the Nintendo DS Lite in "polar white" was the bestselling item, while the Nintendo Wii appeared the most on Amazon.com wish lists. Other top sellers were the Canon Powershot Digital Elph cameras and Garmin GPS systems.