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Strong holiday sales weather mid-December slump

Even though holiday shopping loses steam in the days running up to Christmas, e-tailers eke out healthy gains for the season as a whole.

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Even though holiday shopping lost steam in the days running up to Christmas, e-tailers eked out healthy gains for the season as a whole.

Separate studies released Tuesday showed that online holiday spending peaked in the middle of December.

For the week ended Dec. 24, online spending fell 33 percent to $1 billion from the season's one-week high of $1.6 billion the week before (the week ended Dec. 17), according to a study from Goldman Sachs/PC Data.

That drop-off didn't spoil overall sales for the season, however. For the period that ran from the first week of November through Dec. 24, total online sales reached $9.8 billion, doubling the $4.7 billion that consumers spent online during the same period in 1999, according to the study.

The primary beneficiaries appeared to be veteran e-commerce companies that took market share from smaller, less-established or "pure play" e-tailers that failed to exceed analyst expectations in 2000, the study said.

Nielsen/NetRatings reported that online shopping grew to a peak of 78 percent over the course of the season. But in the week ended Dec. 24, just after the high-water mark, researchers reported a 31 percent decline from the preceding week as shoppers moved their purchases offline.

Amazon.com and business partner Toys "R" Us received 123 million visits during the holiday season, dominating the top 15 online retailers that Nielsen/NetRatings follows. The pair logged more than five times as many customers as the next closest competitor, eToys, which garnered more than 21 million visits.

Last month, Los Angeles-based eToys issued an earnings warning, saying its third-quarter revenues would be half what analysts projected. As a result of the shortfall, eToys said it is exploring alternatives, including a sale of the company or its assets. It also plans to announce layoffs early this year.

In the Nielsen/NetRatings index, Dell.com held the No. 3 spot after Amazon, Toys "R" Us and eToys, with Barnes&Noble.com coming in at fourth place and CDNow at fifth.

According to Goldman Sachs, electronics led all categories, with online customers spending more than $118 million for last-minute purchases. Among those consumers who shopped online in 1999 and 2000, the vast majority--94 percent--said the experience was the same or better in 2000.

Despite the strength of online sales, U.S. customers' online holiday activities were not limited to shopping. A study by the Pew Internet and American Life Project found that more Americans sent online holiday greetings via email than bought gifts over the Web.