Online shopping grows after US holiday store traffic ebbs

Nov 25 (Reuters) - Internet sales continued to grow through

the U.S. Thanksgiving holiday weekend, feeding overall

transactions even as traffic to stores likely slowed after a

strong, early start.

In the latest sign of the growing importance of

Internet-based retailing, comScore Inc said "Black

Friday" online sales topped $1 billion for the first time, while

IBM said online sales rose 16.9 percent year-over-year on

Saturday.

Staying open on Thanksgiving became more widespread this

year as retailers such as Target Corp, Sears Holdings

Corp and Toys R Us Inc joined in, while others

including Wal-Mart and Gap Inc either extended

their operating hours or had more stores doing business.

Traditionally, stores had waited until Black Friday, the day

after the U.S. Thanksgiving holiday, to make their big push.

IBM, in a survey, said 24 percent of shoppers used a mobile

device to visit a retailer's website on Black Friday, and 25.5

percent did so on Saturday. Overall sales, however, were likely

to have flattened slightly.

The number of consumers using their mobile device to make a

purchase was up over Black Friday, reaching 16.7 percent versus

16.3 percent, IBM said.

"Overall Saturday sales are probably up 1 or 2 percent after

the 3 or 4 percent on Thursday and Friday," said Steve Krenzer,

chief executive of shopping comparison website PriceGrabber.

"Sales for the overall weekend will be up 3 percent, but

some of Thursday and Friday's gains will come at Saturday's

expense," he said.

Krenzer said that this year, 13-14 percent of consumers

indicated they would spend more this holiday season against 80

percent or more who said they would spend the same or less than

last year.

"When you see strong sales on Thursday and Friday, you know

it is going to come from later in the weekend or later in the

season," he added.

Consumer spending accounts for about 70 percent of U.S.

economic activity.

Hard data for sales and traffic trends for the weekend will

not be available until later in the day and week, but initial

readings suggested that for all the early Thanksgiving deals,

those extra hours may not have led to a huge boost in sales.

The National Retail Federation expects sales in November and

December to rise 4.1 percent this year, below last year's 5.6

percent increase.

As the spending pool contracts, it becomes more important

for retailers to strategize as they battle each other, rather

than seeing a growing pie in a season when they can make a third

of their annual sales and 40 to 50 percent of their profits.

"The early opening is very important to gain or maintain

market share in the competitive landscape, but it will not

generate a breakthrough spike in year-over-year spending for the

overall holidays," PriceGrabber's Krenzer said.

Analysts at Shoppertrak, which analyzes store traffic, said

though the number of shoppers visiting physical stores rose 3.5

percent on Black Friday, retail sales fell 1.8 percent that day.

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