Online holiday sales expected to hit 24 percent

/ Source: The Associated Press

Online spending for the holiday season remains robust, but free shipping upgrades and other offers are expected to extend the season later this year than last year, according to the latest report from comScore Networks Inc., an Internet research company.

Online spending reached $17.6 billion in the period from Nov. 1 through Tuesday, marking a 24 percent increase compared with the corresponding year-ago period, comScore reported Thursday. But sales growth on Monday, expected to be the busiest day of the season, was up only 19 percent to $661 million — less than the $700 million, or 26 percent growth, projected, indicating that shoppers were delaying their buying even online.

“It's a little lighter than we thought,” said Gian Fulgoni, chairman of comScore Networks, referring to Monday. “Maybe some people are procrastinating even more.”

Still, online holiday sales are on track to meet comScore's forecast for $24.3 billion for November and December combined, or 24 percent higher than the year-ago period. The results exclude travel, auctions and large corporate purchases.

Fulgoni noted that online stores are making it easier for shoppers to procrastinate by pushing back deadlines for standard shipping in time for Christmas deliveries as retailers' operations become more sophisticated. Many online retailers are also offering free shipping upgrades to guarantee delivery by Dec. 25.

According to a recent survey of about 80 online retailers conducted by BizRate Research for Shopzilla and, the online arm of National Retail Federation, the number of retailers who guarantee that standard shipping orders placed by Dec. 18 or 19 will be delivered by Christmas Day nearly doubled to 39 percent from last year's 19 percent.