Online Retail Sales Dip

If flat is the new up, then the 2008 holiday shopping season was still a disappointment.

Consumer online retail spending declined 3 percent this year, according to comScore, which had previously predicted that online shopping would represent a bright spot in an otherwise dismal holiday shopping season by at least matching the spending output seen a year ago. Instead, e-commerce spending slipped from $26.3 billion to $25.5 billion during the Nov. 1 through Dec. 23 time period versus last year (with Dec. 23 representing the last day consumers could make Web purchases that could arrive by Christmas).

comScore pointed to the fact that a late Thanksgiving yielded five fewer shopping days between the traditional holiday shopping kickoff and Christmas. But primarily it was the brutal economy that produced the first decline in online holiday shopping recording by comScore since it began tracking such data back in 2001. Since that time, e-commerce figures have grown consistently as more Americans became comfortable shopping on the Web.

Not surprisingly, most major retailers saw holiday traffic decline on their sites in December (at least up until Dec. 24, per comScore). For example, traffic to J.C. Penney's site slid 11 percent to 18.9 million unique users, while the Toys 'R' Us' site dropped by 9 percent to just over 18 million uniques. Circuit City's site was hit particularly hard, plunging by 21 percent to 15.5 million uniques (rival Best Buy's site traffic was essentially flat).

There were exceptions. For instance, red-hot's traffic soared by 19 percent to 35 million users in December. Mega-retailer appears to have enjoyed a strong holiday season as well, as its user-base climbead 7 percent to a whopping 76.2 million uniques. The online auction giant eBay led all retail sites with 85.4 million visitors, though its traffic was down 4 percent versus last year.

In addition, discount online retailers are weathering the storm better than most. Traffic to rose 4 percent to 51.5 (correlating with its solid in-store performance this year), while's audience grew by 2 percent, hitting 18.4 million uniques in December.

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