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Online shopping continues to set records

Through the first 30 days of the holiday season online sales have surpassed $20 billion with several days last week above the $1 billion mark.

For the holiday season-to-date, $20.4 billion has been spent online, marking a 15% increase versus the corresponding days last year, according to the online measurement firm comScore. Last week saw three individual days eclipse $1 billion in spending, led by Cyber Monday, which became the heaviest online spending day on record at $1.46 billion. Tuesday, November 27 reached $1.26 billion, while Wednesday, November 28 reached $1.11 billion. Monday and Tuesday of this past week currently rank as the two heaviest online spending days in history, with the Tuesday total slightly outpacing that of Cyber Monday 2011.

"Cyber Monday kicked off Cyber Week with a record spending total of $1.46 billion, but the ‘sugar high’ appears to be somewhat short-lived," said comScore chairman Gian Fulgoni. "While we still saw three billion dollar days this week, growth rates dampened following the peak demand of the Thanksgiving-to-Cyber Monday promotional period. This is a similar pattern to what we observed last year. In addition, unseasonably warm weather throughout many parts of the country may have given consumers some added impetus to shop in-store rather than rely on online shopping."

To no one’s surprise, free shipping remains an important driver on online holiday spending with more than half of e-commerce transactions during each of the past three weeks involving free shipping. Transaction involving free shipping reached a peak of 57% during the week ended Sunday, November 25. During the first five weeks of the holiday season, consumers spent an average of 42% more on free shipping transactions than on paid shipping transactions, including a 51% higher average order value during the week ending November 25, according to comScore.

"Though retailers must often sacrifice margins when they provide free shipping, they benefit because consumers tend to spend significantly more on those transactions," Fulgoni said. "Consumers may either be responding to the minimum spending thresholds needed in order to receive free shipping, or figure that as long as they know they’re receiving free shipping it might be worth adding another item or two to their shopping basket."

Other insights shared by the firm at the halfway point of the season relate to increasing adoption of smartphones and tablets as a sales driver in key categories. For example, the top gaining category for the season-to-date is digital content and subscriptions, which includes digital book, music and video downloads, which has grown 25% versus year ago. The consumer electronics category, despite softening growth in flat panel TV sales, ranks fourth at 17% growth, largely on the strength of smartphone sales. The computer hardware category is seeing gains of 15% on the strength of tablet sales, despite traditional laptop and desktop computers posting more modest gains. Other categories currently performing well include Toys, up 21%, consumer packaged goods, up 18% and video game consoles and accessories, up 16%.