Retailers report strong holiday sales online and in stores

Carol Uyeno of Palo Alto, Calif., peruses "Cyber Monday" sales on her home computer.
Carol Uyeno of Palo Alto, Calif., peruses "Cyber Monday" sales on her home computer. (Paul Sakuma/associated Press)
By Ylan Q. Mui and Danielle Douglas
Washington Post Staff Writers
Monday, November 29, 2010; 10:51 PM

Retailers rang up strong sales online and in stores during the post-Thanksgiving shopping bonanza, sparking hopes for a merrier holiday season.

E-commerce sales on "Cyber Monday" were up 15 percent compared with the previous year, according to an analysis by research firm IBM Coremetrics on Monday. From Thanksgiving to Saturday, sales rose 14 percent, with average orders also increasing.

Much of the traffic was driven by blockbuster deals that retailers began promoting weeks in advance to kick off holiday shopping. According to a survey by the National Retail Federation, a trade group, nearly 90 percent of retailers planned to offer special deals Monday, up from about 70 percent three years ago.

EBay held limited-time sales on popular holiday items, such as the BlackBerry Curve smartphone discounted 82 percent. J.C. Penney touted its largest-ever Cyber Monday sale, with 40,000 products marked down 30 to 75 percent. And local retailer Simply Soles lured shoppers with 40 percent off any purchase for just two hours Monday morning. After 10 a.m., the discount dropped to 20 percent.

"All signs are pointing to a successful start to the season," said Heather Dougherty, director of research for Experian Hitwise, which tracks Web traffic. "I think we saw everyone come out kind of guns a-blazing with promotions."

Online shopping has stood out as one of the bright spots of the retail industry in recent years, maintaining strong growth despite the recession. This holiday season, Reston-based market research firm ComScore predicts online sales will grow 11 percent, to $32 billion.

In the Washington region, the number of Google searches for "Cyber Monday sales" jumped 30 percent from the previous year. Searches for "American Girl," a popular series of dolls and books, spiked 70 percent over the past week compared with the same week a year earlier, while "Nerf" jumped 50 percent, according to Google data.

The federation estimated that shopping malls and online retailers welcomed 212.5 million consumers, but that number includes repeat visitors. The amount spent by the average shopper increased 6 percent, to $365.34. Total spending over the long weekend topped $45 billion, up from $41.2 billion last year.

"Spending power is there; confidence is not. And I think retailers are tapping that spending power with pretty clever promotions," federation spokesman Scott Krugman said.

Men outspent women over the holiday weekend, according to the federation, with many men spending their dollars on consumer electronics and clothing. Gift cards, toys and books also were high on the list of buys this year. The federation also said jewelry made a comeback, as 14.3 percent of people purchased rings, earrings and other items, up from 11.7 percent last year. Spending on such discretionary items could be a sign of increasing consumer confidence. in the economy, the group said.

But Thanksgiving weekend is just one milepost in the race for holiday sales. Some retailers have been touting doorbuster deals in stores and online since Halloween. Wal-Mart has eschewed the term Cyber Monday in favor of Cyber Week and plans to keep the discounts rolling into December. And retailers typically see another burst of activity as Christmas nears.

"Consumers are also really well trained in the fact that there's going to be more sales," Dougherty said.

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