Online Retailers Expect Strong Sales This Holiday

Cyber Monday may not be the biggest day for online shopping, but it certainly gets the most attention. One reason is retailers are trying to lure shoppers online with big Web-only bargains and deals on free shipping and gift wrap.

Many retailers began posting online discounts on Thanksgiving day and some so-called "Cyber Monday" sales will extend until Friday.

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The promotions come as retailers fret that shoppers will be slow to spend big on the holidays. Consumers are grappling with high gasoline prices, a weak housing market and a potentially weaking job market. All of these trends have chipped away at consumer confidence.

More than 147 million shoppers hit U.S. stores this Thanksgiving weekend, but average consumer spending fell, according to a National Retail Federation survey that included data from Thursday to Saturday and projections for Sunday.

The survey found customers spent an average of $347.44, down 3.5 percent from $360.15 last year.

That has retailers relying heavily on their Web sites to offer special deals or advertise holiday discounts.

Here's what the experts are telling CNBC about how sales are going so far.

Strong Year Expected

"It looks like a pretty strong year. We're seeing estimates of around 20 percent growth overall for online retail, but we're seeing many retailers that are going to expect higher."

- Scott Silverman, Shop.org Executive Director

Not the Biggest Day

"Today won't be the biggest day. The biggest day should be around December 17, but today is when it really starts to ramp up. Today, you see a huge increase in volume from normal levels."

- Mark Vadon, Blue Nile Chairman & CEO (online diamonds)

No Must-Have Item

"Last year, the season was really defined for a lot of retailers from the TMX Tickle Me Elmo and the Nintendo Wii product. We haven't seen one single breakthrough product this year that's had the dominance of last year."

- Josh Silverman, Shopping.com President & CEO

Deals and Discounts

“Not everyone fulfills their holiday shopping list over this past weekend, and so today is the day that they take it to online, and they’ll start looking for those items they couldn’t find or they couldn’t find for a good price offline and see if they can get them online on a site like eBay.”

- Jim Griffeth, eBay Dean of Education

Wal-Mart.com's Strategy

"We think that certainly when times are tough, what customers try to do is they try to stretch the dollar. That's going to work for our stores and it's going to work for us online as well."

- Raul Vazquez, Walmart.com CEO

The Online Advantage

"I think the challenge that a lot of the brick-and-mortar retailers have is that in the toy business it is seasonal, and having that infrastructure throughout the country that's maybe not performing as well as it does in the holiday season is expensive. Online, you don't have that."

- Michael Wagner, BabyUniverse CEO (BabyUniverse runs eToys.com)

December Will Tell

"Today, Cyber Monday, is a pretty telling day. We think that sales will exceed $700 million, but...we're going to see a lot of days in December that are even stronger, so I think that by early December, we'll know how this season is shaping up."

- Gian Fulgoni, Comscore Networks Chairman