November 29, 2004 10:37 AM PST

E-tailers bullish on holiday sales

The first several days of the 2004 holiday buying season showed positive signs for online retailers as industry watchers and major e-commerce sites charted above average traffic and sales.

Among the companies tracking early sales by Internet retailers, also known as e-tailers, was Web statistician ComScore Networks, which recorded a 23 percent increase in purchases between Nov. 1 and Nov. 26, compared with the same period last year.

Online spending in 2004 through the day after Thanksgiving--also known as "Black Friday" in the retail industry, because heavy sales typically push retailers into profitability for the year--totaled $5.7 billion, compared with $4.6 billion in 2003. Spending on Black Friday itself failed to disappoint e-tailers; U.S. consumers accounted for $250 million in online sales, a 41 percent increase over the $178 million reported for 2003.

ComScore said sales were particularly strong last week, which helped to compensate for relatively slow sales over the first three weeks of November. Between Nov. 22 and Nov. 26, e-tailers sold $1.23 billion in goods, an increase of 35 percent compared with the same period last year.

While Thanksgiving is typically a lighter day for sales, ComScore said online spending increased significantly on the holiday this year. Consumers forked over $133 million on Thursday, an increase of 100 percent compared with $67 million spent on Thanksgiving last year.

Hitwise, another company that tracked e-tailers' recent performance, reported that online shopping visits reached a record high on Thanksgiving, with Black Friday coming in second. Hitwise said that shopping and classifieds sites claimed 11.39 percent of all U.S. visits on Thanksgiving, breaking the 2003 high of 8.96 percent, which was also set on the holiday.

The research firm said that U.S.-based visits to retail Web sites exceeded 10 percent of total Internet traffic for the first time ever--accounting for 11.39 percent, 11.03 percent and 10.74 percent, respectively--on Nov. 25, Thanksgiving and Black Friday. The top five sites in traffic on those days were eBay, Amazon.com, Walmart.com, BestBuy.com and Target.com, in that order.

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