Free shipping and enticing discounts appeared to have paid off for online merchants, who enjoyed a robust Monday, the official start of the holiday shopping season for electronic retailers.
According to comScore Networks, non-travel spending rose 26 percent to $485 million on the Monday after Thanksgiving. Marketers have dubbed the day "Cyber Monday" as droves of consumers return to the office and use their high-speed Internet connections to click and shop.
The holiday weekend, running from Friday through Sunday, was also strong, with shoppers spending $925 million on merchants' online sites, 26 percent more than the same period a year ago.
The strong start to the holiday shopping season helped fuel a 24 percent increase in online spending since Nov. 1 to $7.93 billion, compared to $6.37 billion in the same year-ago period, according to comScore.
Gian Fulgoni, chairman and co-founder of comScore, said that while there is a lot of marketing buzz around Cyber Monday, the day has not been traditionally the busiest online shopping day of the season.
"Cyber Monday is a strong day, but based on what we saw last year, it ranks somewhere between the 10th and 12th busiest day," said Fulgoni. "I don't expect it to be different this year," he said.
Fulgoni noted that categories that exceeded the 26 percent growth rate include video game consoles, apparel, consumer electronics and home and garden, such as kitchen appliances and patio furniture.
Nielsen/NetRatings, an Internet research firm, reported that 27.7 million customers, both from home and work, clicked onto online shopping sites Monday, a 15 percent increase compared to Friday, the official start of the holiday season for store owners.
The most popular sites were ebay.com, which attracted 11.7 million consumers, followed by Amazon.com, with 5.6 million consumers, and Walmart.com, with 3.09 million shoppers.
Analysts said enticements like free shipping and discounts are drawing more people to online shopping.
L.L. Bean began its free shipping promotion early, on Oct. 21, with no minimum purchase. Toys R Us Inc., which offers free shipping on purchases $49.99 or more, is adding sales and buy-one-get-one-free promotions this year. EToys.com is offering free standard shipping on selected items, which number about 500, after limiting it to orders of at least $99 last year.
Jupiter Research is projecting online sales to increase 18 percent to $26 billion in November and December, compared to last year's 22 percent. Forrester Research says online sales will grow 25 percent, compared to last year's 30 percent, to $18 billion. Forrester's results cover the period between Thanksgiving and Christmas.
Meanwhile, the National Retail Federation last week upgraded its overall holiday sales growth forecast to 6 percent from 5 percent, citing better-than-expected October retail sales and declining gasoline prices. That growth would still be slower than the 6.7 percent increase for last year's holiday season.
But the nation's store owners had a mixed start to their shopping season last weekend, with discounters such as Wal-Mart Stores Inc. and electronics chains faring the best, but some apparel stores were left out.
ShopperTrak RCT Corp., which monitors retail sales at 45,000 outlets in malls, reported Tuesday that sales for the combined Friday, Saturday and Sunday period rose a meager 0.4 percent from a year ago.
A better picture of how the holiday shopping weekend fared will be known on Thursday when retailers report their monthly sales results.