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Online Sales Expected To Soar This Holiday Season

NEW YORK – Prognosticators expect online sales to continue their steep trajectory through the holiday selling season, aided by the growing popularity of mobile shopping.

Among those forecasting a bountiful e-commerce Christmas is the National Retail Federation’s division, which is anticipating a 12 percent spike in online holiday sales, to nearly $96 billion. NRF president Matthew Shay said e-tail has been “a bright spot for years and we don’t expect that trend to change anytime soon, especially with the growth in mobile.”

CE and related categories would appear to be the biggest beneficiaries of online sales trends, based on a survey of third-quarter e-commerce activity by market research firm ComScore. The study showed that CE, computer software, and digital content and subscriptions (along with apparel) led the pack in e-commerce sales for the three months, ended Sept. 30, with gains of at least 16 percent year over year.

The e-tail survey also showed that 37 percent of U.S. consumers say they have engaged in showrooming behavior, representing an increase of 5 percentage points in the past two quarters.

To help counter the showrooming phenomenon, Sears Holdings, h.h.gregg and Toys “R” Us, among other national chains, are emphasizing their multichannel capabilities this holiday season, which will variously allow customers to pick up their online purchases in stores or have them shipped from showrooms.

In-store pick up of online purchases was pioneered by Circuit City and is regularly employed by Walmart, Best Buy and other national chains as a way to leverage their vast brick-and-mortar real estate portfolios.

As h.h.gregg president/CEO Dennis May noted during a second-quarter earnings call this month, the chain’s new “buy online, ship from store” functionality is expected to “benefit our overall inventory turns.”

Meanwhile, Sears and Kmart are providing free shipping on orders more than $49 and, in a move taken from the Amazon Prime playbook, are offering loyalty club members a $79, one-year upgrade that provides free, unlimited two-day shipping on many items, plus faster shipping upgrades for only 99 cents.

Sears noted that its online assortment will top 50 million items this holiday season.

As NRF’s Shay observed, “In addition to enhancing the site experience, retailers have spent the year investing in optimizing their mobile and social platforms, just what holiday shoppers are looking for.”

Indeed, a recent NRF poll showed that 51.8 percent of consumers plan to shop online this holiday season, up from 46.7 percent last year, and more than a quarter plan to do as much as half their holiday shopping via the web, up from 24.4 percent last year.

In addition, 32.9 percent plan to use their smartphones to research products and compare prices, up from 31 percent last year, while 15 percent will make purchases from their smartphones, up from 14.1 percent last year.

However, nearly a quarter said they will use their smartphones to look up store information such as store hours, location and directions.

In contrast, 44.2 percent of respondents said they will use their tablet computers to research products and compare prices, down from 50.8 percent last year, and 30 percent will use their tablets to make purchases, down from 34.8 percent last year.

Notably, more than two-thirds of respondents said they own a smartphone or tablet computer, up from 50.2 percent in 2011.

A separate survey by shopping comparison site also showed that more shoppers will be using the Internet this year to conduct research on products and pricing before making holiday purchases. Fully 88 percent of survey respondents indicated that they will research their holiday gift purchases in advance to find the best deals, PriceGrabber reported, and 76 percent said they will shop online in hopes of avoiding crowds at brickand- mortar stores.