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Holiday Shopping Surge is On

Retailers traditionally have looked to Black Friday, the day after Thanksgiving, as the date when shoppers throng to stores and drive profits into the black. But the ability to shop any time of the day or night online may change that trend.

An increasing number of people are celebrating Black Friday online instead of at the mall, according to Nielsen//NetRatings. Visits to e-commerce sites the day after Thanksgiving 2004 were up 11 percent over last year, reported the Web audience measurement firm, which tracks activity at 109 key retail and shopping sites across 10 categories.

Online spending for the holidays as a whole is on a growth trend, according to VeriSign . VeriSign reported that the first week of the prime holiday shopping season accounted for $2.2 billion of online purchases, with a 21 percent increase in transaction volume over the first week after Thanksgiving 2003. At the same time, the average sale amount was $140, up $10 from the same period 2003. The statistics are based on the analysis of online sales volume processed through VeriSign Payment Services, which the company says accounts for more than 35 percent of all North American e-commerce and represents in excess of 120,000 online retailers.

VeriSign statistics show another interesting phenomenon: Monday retail therapy.

"Throughout the year, we've seen Monday as the busiest shopping day online," said Healey. "Generally, Monday shopping online equals Saturday and Sunday combined." He thinks better bandwidth at work may be part of the trend, along with shoppers pawing the merchandise at stores on the weekend, and then going online to consummate the transaction.

Neither did the demands of family and friends seem to interfere with acquisitive urges. Online shopping on Thanksgiving Day surged around 2 AM EST, with a huge spike in the number of online transactions between 1 and 3 PM; the volume remained low and steady at around 3 percent for the rest of the day.

Let's hope these Web shoppers were not holed up in the bedroom, but engaging in what Healey called "the new paradigm of multi stimulus in the home -- watching TV, reading and shopping online in the same room."

Combine the increase in Thanksgiving Day shopping with the Black Monday effect and the overall increase in e-commerce, and retailers may soon not need to hold their collective breath on the day after Thanksgiving.

Overstock.com has experienced another shift in consumer behavior. It reported that its sales for this holiday season peaked on Thursday, December 16, a full week later than in previous years. In fact, that date was the largest day in the company's history.

President Patrick Byrne attributed the peak to his company's promotion of cheap, fast shipping in an attempt to lure last-minute buyers.

VeriSign's Healey expects to see an e-commerce surge on the last day when standard shipping will deliver packages by the 25th, and again on December 21, the last day to be sure priority shipping will make the date. On that shop-and-ship-or-else day, he said, "We'll see last minutes shoppers come online in droves."