Record online holiday sales seen as mobile drives growth

Online retailers are poised for a record $43.4 billion holiday sales season as shoppers increasingly rely on social networks and mobile devices to find and buy merchandise.

Internet sales will grow 17 percent from a year earlier and make up more than 10 percent of U.S. retail spending, excluding gas, food and cars in the last two months of the year, said Andrew Lipsman, vice president of industry analysis at ComScore Inc. That compares with $29.2 billion spent online during the same period in 2007, when electronic commerce made up 7.4 percent of total spending.

The growth of smartphones and tablets gives buyers the ability to shop anytime and anywhere, an opportunity that Web retailers have been eager to exploit by offering sales to coincide with traditional storefront deals. They’re also offering applications to make mobile retailing more seamless while tapping into social media, where shoppers increasingly find and share information on merchandise.

“People are shopping on their mobile devices between 7 p.m. and midnight -- that’s an occasion that just didn’t exist in the past, and now we’re seeing it happening in a big way,” Lipsman said.

EBay Inc. began offering mobile-only deals starting at 5:23 p.m. New York time on Thanksgiving -- the exact moment when it expected diners to push away from their pie plates and start scouring the Web. Four days earlier, Amazon.com Inc. debuted a holiday deal site promising bargains to shoppers who used the company’s mobile app or signed up for alerts on social networks such as Facebook Inc. and Twitter Inc.

Moving Online

Online sales already gained 17 percent on Thanksgiving day and 21 percent on Black Friday, according to research by International Business Machines Corp., signaling shoppers are no longer waiting for the so-called Cyber Monday that follows Black Friday discounts by brick-and-mortar retailers. Apple Inc.’s iPad was used for almost 10 percent of online shopping, followed by the iPhone at 8.7 percent, IBM said.

On Black Friday, online sales, excluding EBay and auction sites, surged to over $1 billion for the first time, according to ComScore. Amazon was the top retailer that day, with more than 57.3 million U.S. visitors, the researcher said.

That growth has been driven, in part, by mobile shopping, thanks to the growth of smartphones and tablets, along with faster networks, that can deliver a richer Web shopping experience even when away from personal computers and laptops.

“Mobile is a game changer,” said Steve Yankovich, head of mobile business at EBay, the biggest online marketplace. “Consumers expect to shop on their own terms, and tablets and smartphones make every moment instantly shoppable.”

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