Online holiday sales boost slow shopping season

Published: Tuesday, January 7, 2003 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Monday, January 6, 2003 at 10:47 p.m.

NEW YORK (AP) - Online sales this holiday season turned out to be robust, according to several preliminary reports released Monday, providing a bright spot in an otherwise mediocre shopping season.

The double-digit increases at Internet retailers far outstripped the slim gains reported by brick-and-mortar stores.

"Compared to an anemic holiday season" at stores, "this was a terrific holiday season for online retailers," said Ken Cassar, an analyst at Jupiter Research.

But Cassar warned that free shipping was an important driver of online sales, and he said he is worried about companies' profits.

Jupiter Research announced Monday that e-commerce sales will exceed its original forecast of $13.1 billion, or a gain of more than 17 percent from the year-ago period. Now, Jupiter Research is expecting an increase of 20 percent to 24 percent for the 2002 holiday season, which ran from Nov. 1 through Dec. 31. Final figures are expected in March.

A separate report from Nielsen/NetRatings, Goldman Sachs and Harris Interactive said that online spending jumped more than 24 percent to $13.7 billion, from Nov. 2 through Dec. 27, compared with the year-ago period.

The company based its data on surveys with a total of 9,000 online shoppers during the holiday period.

ComScore Networks, which captures buying activity from a cross-section of 1.5 million Internet users, said online sales were up 20 percent to at least $9.7 billion during the Nov. 1-to-Dec. 31 period.

The bulk of brick-and-mortar retailers will report their December sales Thursday.

Michael P. Niemira, vice president of Bank of Tokyo-Mitsubishi Ltd., said he expects sales at stores open at least a year will be up only 1.5 percent for the November and December period. That would be the weakest increase since the tracking began in 1970.

Analysts are closely watching, the bellwether of online retailing, to see the effect of its free shipping and aggressive discounting. Amazon is set to report fourth-quarter results on Jan. 23.

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