E-commerce has a good weekend, but remains down

Total U.S. online spending over this past weekend, a traditionally heavy shopping period, was nearly double what it was the weekend before Christmas 2007, according to comScore data released Tuesday.

However, overall online spending for November and December was down one percent compared to the same period last year. Online shoppers spent US$677 million Dec. 20-21, compared to $341 million the weekend before Christmas last year. Through Dec. 21 of this year, shoppers had spent $24.71 billion online, compared to $24.96 billion in the same period last year.

While the difference may seem slight, when coupled with a bad year for brick-and-mortar stores the online figures are gloomy for retailers dependent on year-end holiday shopping for their profits.

Severe winter storms in the northern U.S. last weekend may have boosted online sales to homebound shoppers. In addition, a shorter than usual period between the U.S. Thanksgiving holiday and Christmas may be pushing more sales to later in the season.

"As a result, we've seen online shoppers continue to spend heavily even later into the season, with the most recent week including four of the top 10 spending days of the season," comScore Chairman Gian Fulgoni said in a statement earlier this week.

Online sales from Dec. 1 -- "cyber Monday" this year, a traditionally heavy e-commerce day -- through Dec. 21 were flat at $13.52 million, compared to $13.47 million a year ago.

Average online shopping per day from Thanksgiving on Nov. 27 until Dec. 19 was $643 million, or 5 percent higher than last year, but the stretch between Thanksgiving and Christmas has 16 percent fewer days, which means that daily sales have not risen enough to compensate for fewer shopping days, comScore said.

"This year's compressed shopping season has resulted in some consumers buying online later than they did a year ago. A positive late-season boost for online retail perhaps, but it's ultimately not going to do much to make up for the significantly shorter shopping season this year," Fulgoni said.

Retail analysts have said they expect already deep discounts to be even higher starting Friday, the day after Christmas, but even if post-holiday spending is robust that will just help reduce inventory rather than making it a profitable year for retailers.

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