Online holiday shopping starts strong in U.S.

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The U.S. holiday shopping season got off to a hot start online with significant increases in e-commerce activity, according to several reports.

Shoppers spent $272 million online Thursday, which was Thanksgiving Day in the U.S., and $531 million the following day, according to comScore. Those figures represent increases of 29 percent and 22 percent, respectively, over last year.

The Friday after Thanksgiving is nicknamed “Black Friday,” and is one of the busiest shopping days of the year in brick-and-mortar stores as retailers kick off their holiday sales season, often with steep discounts. Increasingly shoppers are also turning to online merchants to do that shopping and look for bargains.

PriceGrabber, which operates a price comparison shopping site, saw a 47 percent increase in the number of referrals it made to retailers this year over last year, while competitor Shopping.com said referral traffic was up 61 percent over last year.

The hottest category was video games, with sales up 134 percent, said comScore. Within the video game sector the hottest product is Nintendo’s Wii. Consumers in search of the Wii hit both retailers and eBay. The online auction site saw 358 sold at an average price of $412, which is about $100 cheaper than from online retailers.

Microsoft’s Zune music player was ranked the second most popular gadget online by PriceGrabber, eBay and Shopping.com, although the sites saw differing levels of demand for the 30GB and the 80GB versions. GPS (global positioning system) devices were also popular with the Garmin StreetPilot c550 and TomTom One both seeing high demand.

PriceGrabber’s ranking of top-selling products also included Activision’s Guitar Hero III computer game, several models of Canon digital still camera, Microsoft’s Office 2004 Student and Teacher edition, a Western Digital 500G-byte external hard-disk drive and the Magellan Maestro 3100 GPS.

Internet performance analysis company Keynote said one-third of the 30 major retail sites it monitors for its holiday retail index showed significant slowdowns. The Buy.com and Lowe’s Home Improvement sites were among those at which performance dropped to a level that consumers were likely abandoning their purchases, the company said. Good news for consumers is that the day-long site outages of previous years appear to be a thing of the past.

With such a strong kick-off to holiday sales online retailers will now be looking to see what Monday brings. The day, nicknamed “Cyber Monday,” has become one of the hottest online shopping days of the year. It’s assumed shopping online is strong that day as millions of Americans return to their offices and regular schedules after the holiday and begin looking online for bargains.

Last year traffic on Cyber Monday at PriceGrabber was 19 percent higher than Black Friday. For this year comScore said it expects sales to be around $700 million, which is just under three times that of Thursday’s total and a sizable jump on Friday’s online shopping tally.

If such a strong jump is seen then retailers can look forward to a healthy season online this year. More than $9.3 billion has been spent online since the beginning of November, according to comScore, and various estimates say online holiday shopping will total at least $30 billion this year.

The busiest day of the year online is typically the second Monday in December, which this year is Dec. 10.

This story, "Online holiday shopping starts strong in U.S." was originally published by PCWorld.

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