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HolidayBuyer's Guide
Culture

Holiday e-tail watchers sing 'ka-ching'

Two research firms and Amazon.com confirm earlier numbers suggesting another record year for online holiday sales.

If there's a spring in Santa's step this year, it's thanks to the Internet.

Even as a Commerce Department report put coal in the nation's economic stocking by showing a 3.1 percent month-over-month decrease in orders for durable goods for the month of November, two market research firms and e-tailing giant Amazon.com confirmed earlier data suggesting it was a record year for online holiday sales.

Amazon called this its busiest holiday season yet and reported selling 2.1 million items in a single day--or 24 units per second--though it declined to say which day. The company considers the holiday season the period between Nov. 1 and Dec. 25.

Amazon and 10 e-tailers with major brick-and-mortar components were found in earlier studies to have attracted record traffic this season, and to have performed sluggishly as a result.

Other research pointed to 2003 as the busiest holiday yet for online sellers. Excluding travel purchases, shoppers spent $13 billion this holiday season, according to an "eSpending" survey by Goldman Sachs, Harris Interactive and Nielsen/NetRatings. That's up 46 percent over last year's total.

In the second week of December alone, shoppers spent $2.95 billion, up 48 percent from the same week last year, according to that study.

The eSpending report examined the period between Nov. 1 and Dec. 12. For the months of November and December, ComScore Networks had a somewhat more modest estimate, with online sales minus travel and auctions projected to total between $12.1 billion and $12.6 billion--a 25 percent to 30 percent jump from last year's $9.7 billion total.

Spending for the week ending Dec. 21, minus travel and auctions, reached $1.65 billion, up 31 percent from the same week a year ago, according to ComScore.

"As the season winds to a close, it's clear that this was a very strong one for online retailers," Dan Hess, senior vice president of ComScore, said in a release. "Consumers continue to recognize and exploit the benefits of using the Web in the shopping process."

The eSpending report confirmed ComScore's notion that shoppers were becoming more comfortable spending money online. Fully 62 percent of those shopping online described themselves as satisfied with the experience, up 4 percent from last year, while less than 7 percent were dissatisfied, down 1 percent from 2002.

Amazon attributed the spike in customers to the breadth of its product offering, but allowed that the general virtues of online shopping had something to do with it.

"We do think it's that people like the convenience of shopping online," said Amazon representative Chris Bruzzo. "They like the idea of one-stop shopping."