It's shaping up to be very happy holiday season for online merchants this year. U.S. consumers went online and spent $8.5 billion last month, 55 percent more than last November, according to an e-spending survey from Goldman Sachs, Harris Interactive and Nielsen Netratings.
The survey looked at all the major shopping sites including Amazon, eBay, QVC, Target, Wal-Mart and, many more.
The biggest category was apparel at $1.6 billion, up 33 percent. After that, it was video/DVD, up 133 percent, then books, up 61 percent, and Music/toys/games, up 32 percent.
What's it all mean? "We believe that people have become more comfortable shopping online, they're able to find products easily, and search engines are a great help to find products," said Nielsen Netratings senior analyst Abha Bhagat. "Search and comparisons, these are some of the things that are standing out."
Forrester Research has already predicted that when it's all over, online sales will have jumped 42 percent this year over last. In fact, right now, most categories are up 40-50 percent.
Forrester senior analyst Carrie Johnson says there are many reasons for that.
"Last year, the reason retailers online did not sell so well during Thanksgiving and Christmas was that the offline sales were too good for consumers to pass up," Johnson said. "This year the load that online retailers saw on Black Friday, and even immediately after that weekend tell me that they are not losing sales to offline retailers anymore, because they were very aggressive about getting consumers to shop online instead of going into stores. They did it with 1-day promotions, saying 'Hey were open, avoid the crowds' and they did it much more aggressively than last year."
Other factors include the fact that broadband is now in 20 percent of American homes, and women have grown more comfortable with shopping online -- now surpassing men 52 to 48 percent.
Combine that with the sheer depth of selection you now see online. Bizrate.com, which ranks online sites, says the kind of items you can buy online has jumped from 5 million this time last year to 31 million products right now.