The last two days have set records for online sales, topping $200 million both days, according to Los Angeles-based BizRate.com, which surveys consumers at the point of sale about what they've purchased and how much they've spent. Online sales reached $222.4 million on Monday and $225.5 million on Tuesday.
Meanwhile, traffic to online auction sites is up more than 60 percent over last year, and the number of consumers visiting auction giant eBay each day is 60 percent greater than the number visiting e-tail behemoth Amazon.com, according to a new report from Jupiter Media Metrix.
"Clearly, consumers are embracing the benefits of online shopping," BizRate.com chief executive Chuck Davis said in a statement.
The increased traffic and spending come despite a downturn in the economy that has led Jupiter Media Metrix to project a decrease in overall retail sales this holiday season. And while the e-commerce sector has been rocked in recent months by site closures and layoffs, those troubles have apparently not shaken the confidence of online consumers.
The positive notes on holiday shopping also come despite persistent performance problems at some of the most prominent e-tail sites. Amazon, for instance, has experienced several short outages in recent weeks. And visitors to Kmart's BlueLight.com, Macys.com and Best Buy have encountered either slow-loading or persistently unavailable sites since Thanksgiving week.
Last year's peak shopping day was Dec. 13, when consumers spent $177.9 million online, according to BizRate. Meanwhile, shoppers could spend up to $1.21 billion online this week, the online shopping mall and research service reported. Nearly half of online consumers plan to finish their holiday shopping by Dec. 15, BizRate reported.
"Shoppers are more savvy this year and many are ordering earlier to ensure their packages arrive on time," Davis said in his statement.
In its report, Jupiter Media Metrix compared last year's online auction site traffic to this year's. For the week including Thanksgiving, traffic to auction sites was up about 50 percent over the same period last year, from 2 million unique visitors to 3 million. For the week after Thanksgiving, traffic was up 62 percent, from 1.9 million unique visitors last year to 3.1 million this year.
Unlike last year, when traffic trailed off at auction sites as the holiday season progressed, traffic is increasing this year, said Jupiter Media Metrix analyst Anne Rickert. This indicates that consumers increasingly are beginning to see auction sites as a viable place to find gifts.
"Something that was a novelty in the past has now become an important component of holiday gift giving," Rickert said. "What all this means is that there is a viable alternative to the traditional retail model online. The Internet is exclusively capable of delivering that to consumers."
Jupiter Media Metrix includes eBay in its online auction category, but it does not include traffic to Amazon or Yahoo's auction areas.
Although eBay outdrew Amazon in terms of overall traffic, more consumers flocked to online retailers than to online auction sites. During the week ended Dec. 3, some 11.8 million consumers shopped at one of the approximately 400 e-tail sites Jupiter Media Metrix monitors each day, the research firm reported. During the comparable week last year, 7.9 million consumers shopped each day at one of the e-tail sites.
Sales of home and garden products have shown the greatest growth this holiday season, BizRate.com reported, with sales up 250 percent over the same period last year. Spending on home and garden products now accounts for 7 percent of all holiday sales.
BizRate considers holiday sales to have begun on Nov. 20 this year.
Toys have also experienced considerable growth this holiday season, BizRate reported. With sales up 144 percent over last year, toys now account for 8 percent of all holiday sales.
But other categories have been more disappointing. Sales of computer hardware and software, which BizRate projected would grow by 80 percent this year over last year, are only up 33 percent this year. With such sales comprising 38 percent of overall online spending, the slower growth has put something of a damper on holiday spending.
"I would say this has been a mild disappointment," said Seth Geiger, BizRate's vice president of professional services. Holiday sales are "not the gang buster projections that we or some other players had put out there."