Reston, Va. - Online retail sales rose 13 percent to $9 billion in the first three week of November, according to ComScore.
The market research firm is also forecasting an 11 percent increase in e-tail sales year over year for the full holiday season, to $32.4 billion.
"The beginning of the online holiday shopping season has gotten off to an extremely positive start, outperforming our earlier expectations," said ComScore chairman Gian Fulgoni. "Despite continued high unemployment rates and other economic concerns, consumers seem to be more willing to open up their wallets this holiday season than last. While this early spending surge reflects, in part, heavy promotional activity on the part of retailers occurring earlier this season, it is nevertheless a very encouraging sign."
This year free-shipping offers have become a key element in holiday promotions. According to a ComScore consumer survey conducted Nov. 11-15, more than three-quarters (77 percent) of respondents considered free delivery important, and one-third said they wouldn't make a purchase without it.
Forty-one percent of e-tail purchases included free shipping during the third quarter, ComScore said.
The survey also showed that consumers are split on the intensity of this season's online promotions. Forty percent said the number of sales, discounts or promotions is about the same compared to last year, while 36 percent perceived an increase and 11 percent perceived a decrease.
Nevertheless, Fulgoni said online spending is surpassing the totals seen during the comparable period in 2007 prior to the recession, and that ComScore expects online sales this holiday season to be the highest on record, with more than $32 billion being spent during the November and December period.