America Online members headed to the Web to do their holiday shopping: In 2001, they spent more than $33 billion online, with a third of it coming in the fourth quarter.
The total figure is up 67 percent from the preceding year, parent company AOL Time Warner said Wednesday. The $11 billion spent online during the fourth quarter--a record for AOL--accounted for a 72 percent increase from the same period a year earlier.
"We expect the shopping preferences reinforced during the holiday season to pay dividends throughout the year as satisfied members continue to make shopping on AOL a habit in their daily lives," Chief Executive Barry Schuler said in a statement.
This is the latest piece of good news for the Internet retailing sector.
Comscore Networks, which tracks e-tail activity, reported last week that online shoppers were on track to hit, or slightly beat, its forecast of $10 billion to $10.25 billion for the fourth quarter, excluding travel and auction sales.
Major Internet retailers like eBay and Amazon.com have not yet released their sales figures--both companies are scheduled to report quarterly results later this month. But others have weighed in, with Yahoo reporting an 86 percent jump in sales volume between Thanksgiving and Christmas compared with last year.
And Microsoft said last week that shoppers at its MSN portal site spent $5.6 billion online during the holiday season.
BizRate, a comparison-shopping site, said last week that online retail sales during the season were up about 36 percent.
To a degree, the increase in spending also reflects the fact that there are more people going online, and, hence, more shoppers.
"That's certainly a part of it--there are 14 million more people online this year than last year," said Jared Blank, an analyst at Jupiter Media Metrix in New York. "But people are purchasing more. The average order size is growing as well."
Based on traffic figures, Jupiter Media Metrix had been expecting the holiday sales figures to be higher, he said, but the strength of the numbers is even better than they had hoped for, he said.
That is turning out to be the case all over retail. Analysts had been predicting gloom and doom for the industry, saying that consumers would spend less in a recession. But early reports showed sales picking up in the week before Christmas, and retailers including Wal-Mart and Target have reported better-than-expected monthly figures.
Shoppers were apparently looking for bargains both on the Web and off. AOL said Wednesday that its new "Deal of the Day" feature did particularly well.
AOL said 79 percent of its members shopped online in the last six months, and 91 percent planned to shop online in the next six months.