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ECommerce Sales Jump 15.4% for 2010 Holidays: SpendingPulse

Thursday, 23 Dec 2010 | 6:02 PM ET

Online retailers are going to see a little something extra in their stockings this year.

Online retail sales during the 2010 holiday season rose a healthy 15.4 percent from last year to $36.4 billion, with strength across all categories, according to MasterCard's SpendingPulse eCommerce Index, which monitors actual spending across the entire spectrum of online transactions.

Retailers used more innovative strategies to coax people to shop online,and these sales show how effective these techniques were, said Michael McNamara, vice president of research and analysis at SpendingPulse.

For one, the online shopping season started earlier, as retailers began aggressive promotions online as early as the start of November.

Online-only sales, plus the availability of certain "Black Friday" discounts online,also helped to drive sales.

Sales of apparel were a standout winner, according to McNamara. Clothing sales surged 25.7 percent online, as shoppers who typically buy in stores shifting more of their purchases to the Web.

Consumer Nation - Holiday Central Edition - See Complete Coverage
Consumer Nation - Holiday Central Edition - See Complete Coverage

"There was some significant share-shift," McNamara said. However, apparel sales for the holidays season have been "pretty good" as consumer purchased more clothing in general.

McNamara said cold weather across much of the country helped boost purchases of sweaters, jackets and other winter gear. He also believes "disruptive" weather in certain parts of the country may have helped shift sales from brick-and-mortar stores as consumers tried to stay out of the elements in some places.

On the other side of the spectrum, online jewelry sales rose 4.5 percent. McNamara said he thinks the shift of consumers purchasing jewelry online has leveled off.

In past holiday seasons, between 12 percent to 15 percent of all jewelry sales occurred online. But this holiday season, the category had trouble breaking into the lower end of that range, according to McNamara.

He suspects that as shoppers shift to buying more expensive jewelry, they prefer to make those purchases in person.

Sales of electronics, on the other hand, seemed to shift more toward the Web. According to SpendingPulse, online sales of electronics rose 12.2 percent from a year ago—despite the fact that low prices on flat panel televisions have weighed on dollar-volume gains in the sector.

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Web sales last "weekend (were) very good, better than expected actually, and probably because of the weather because people were stuck at home,� Pierre Kosciusko-Morizet, CEO of PriceMinister told CNBC.

McNamara said it is difficult to find a "negative story" in the online space.

Six days of the holiday season, running from Oct. 31 through Dec. 23, topped the $1 billion mark, compared with 3 days that hit that level a year ago.

Online retailers run their biggest sales on Nov. 30, according to SpendingPulse, followed by Dec. 1.

Also, sales on the Monday after Thanksgiving, the day commonly known as Cyber Monday, were significantly higher than last year. Many retailers were aggressively promoting "free shipping" and other offers on Cyber Monday.

However, one of the biggest year-over-year sales gains on any one day occurred on Black Friday, McNamara said.

Online sales on Black Friday were up 34.5 percent, he said.

"That's a real change this year," McNamara said, adding that it shows how retailers are working to expand shopping during the holiday season.

"It's hard to sell much more physically," he said, explaining that retailers have already expanded store hours. However, by expanding Black Friday "doorbuster" deals to the Internet, retailers can tap a different type of shopper.

"Despite the growth, there is still a lot of runway in front of it," McNamara said.

Questions? Comments? Email us at consumernation@cnbc.com

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