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Online sales set new record

Online holiday season sales grew 14% to $42.3 billion, a little short of comScore’s pre-season forecast.

The online measurement firm originally projected that online sales during the November and December period would increase 16% to $43.4 billion. However, after a strong start online sales fizzled a bit in early December and never quite regained enough momentum to achieve the firm’s earlier target.

The latter portion of the season saw several days with particularly strong growth, including Free Shipping Day on Monday, Dec. 17 (up 76% to $1.013 billion) and Christmas Day (up 36% to $288 million, but they could not make up for the spending growth shortfall earlier in the month, according to comScore. While the holiday season started off with strong growth rates on the upper end of the mid-teens through the heavy promotional period, a December swoon in consumer confidence gave way to softer than expected buying during the critical shopping weeks in early to mid-December, from which growth rates never fully recovered.

"The 2012 online holiday season was once again a very strong season with growth rates in the mid-teens as we reached record-setting spending levels," said comScore chairman Gian Fulgoni. "This year’s growth rate is essentially on a par with last year’s. But despite many positives for the online sector, this year’s season did not quite perform up to our initial expectation for growth rates in excess of 16% as we fell a billion dollars short of our expected total of $43.4 billion."

A very healthy 16% growth rate through the promotional period of Thanksgiving, Black Friday and Cyber Monday quickly gave way to a consumer pullback that comScore attributed to concerns over the fiscal cliff.

"With Congress deadlocked throughout December, growth rates softened even further and never quite made up enough ground to reach our original expectation," Fulgoni said. "While it is typical to see growth rates subside slightly during the week after Thanksgiving, the amplified and sustained lull this year came as something of a surprise. As it turns out, this December swoon coincided closely with a significant decline in the University of Michigan consumer sentiment index that was attributed  in large part to consumers’ fiscal cliff concerns."