December 2011: Holiday Ecommerce Sales to Grow 16.8% to $46.7 Billion in 2011

The promise of convenience and cost savings online will bring more consumers than ever to shop on the web for the holidays, spending a greater share of their gift budget there than they have in previous years, according to eMarketer.

eMarketer estimates US retail ecommerce holiday sales will rise 16.8%—more than five times as fast as total retail industry growth—to $46.7 billion in 2011, up from $39.9 billion in 2010. That means online sales growth will reach double digits for the third consecutive year, even though the economy remains shaky and consumers are keeping tight budgets.

“Ecommerce has been insulated from the lingering effects of the recession and has even benefitted from price-conscious consumers’ reliance on the internet to save money,” said Jeffrey Grau, eMarketer principal analyst and author of the new report, “Online Holiday Sales Forecast: Savings and Convenience Will Drive Strong Growth.”

By comparison, eMarketer believes total retail sales in the US will see meager growth of about 3% this holiday season.

US Retail Ecommerce Holiday Season Sales, 2006-2011

eMarketer defines the holiday season as November and December. Holiday season sales refer to all retail spending—purchases either related or unrelated to the holidays—which does not include online travel sales.

“The reasons for spending more online are the same ones that attract new holiday shoppers to ecommerce: convenience and savings,” added Grau. “Many consumers will time their holiday purchases around retailers’ key promotional dates and free shipping offers, in addition to looking for retailers’ promotions on social networks and rely on daily deal sites to find experiential gifts that they can enjoy with friends and family.”

Strong online holiday spending, in turn, will boost ecommerce sales to $195 billion for the year, up 16.5% over 2010. Holiday sales will account for almost a quarter (23.9%) of online sales in 2011, underlining the importance that November and December have on many retailers’ annual ecommerce sales.

US Retail Ecommerce Sales, 2006-2011

As a result of strong growth, ecommerce’s share of total retail sales is gradually increasing, with the biggest gains taking place during the holiday season. In 2010, ecommerce accounted for 5.7% of sales from January through October, but jumped to 7.4% for the holiday season, eMarketer estimates.

US Retail Ecommerce Sales as a Percet of Total Retail Sales, 2006-2010

“The holiday shopping season has assumed the character of a scrimmage, where consumers and retailers jockey for the upper hand,” said Grau. “Retailers must fire on all cylinders to ensure they get their share of holiday spending from such savings-savvy consumers.”

Online holiday sales will also get a boost from smartphone and tablet users, Grau said.

“Mobile shoppers are having a noticeable influence on holiday sales,” added Grau. “Given the fast growth in device ownership—especially tablet ownership—it is likely that retailers will report significant online sales coming from mobile users this holiday season.”

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