Web to drive holiday retail sales

Though overall retail sales are likely to be flat this season, online buys may be the one bright spot, expected to rise 8 percent over last year, says Forrester Research.

Lance Whitney Contributing Writer
Lance Whitney is a freelance technology writer and trainer and a former IT professional. He's written for Time, CNET, PCMag, and several other publications. He's the author of two tech books--one on Windows and another on LinkedIn.
Lance Whitney
2 min read

It may not be happy holidays for the retail industry overall. But the Web should provide one bit of good cheer.

Retail sales will probably be flat this holiday season, but online sales are expected to reach $44.7 billion, an 8 percent jump over last year, according to the latest data from Forrester Research.

Among 4,000 online consumers surveyed, 94 percent have made a purchase online in the past three months and plan to do the same for the holidays. As for retailers, 72 percent of those questioned for the third-quarter Forrester report "The State of Retailing Online," said they expect holiday sales to increase over last year.

But to cope with the down economy, online stores will try to weigh customer demand against the need to boost profits, says the Forrester report "US Online Holiday Retail Forecast, 2009," released Monday.

"Despite the lingering effects of the recession, the online space remains the retail industry's growth engine," said Sucharita Mulpuru, Forrester Research vice president and principal analyst, in a statement. "What's different this holiday from past years is that online retailers will manage to the bottom line, which will change some of the tactics they have employed in the past."

Retailers on the Web will offer sales and discounts as always, but of a more limited time and quantity. Automatic free shipping may be jettisoned in favor of free shipping only above certain price levels, says Forrester.

To drive business, online sellers may also take advantage of new trends. More detailed product information will be available, as will social networking tools that let customers share purchasing advice with friends and family.

"Tighter offline inventories may benefit the online channel as consumers go to the Web looking for products--and prices--they can't find in stores this holiday," said Mulpuru. "Online retailers will be ready for them with a special focus this year on engagement and service."