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ComScore forecasts flat holiday online spending

Researcher finds that online sales declined by 4% during first three weeks of November

By Heather Havenstein
November 26, 2008 12:00 PM ET

Computerworld - A researcher this week said that online spending declined during the first three weeks of November, an ominous note for retailers hoping for a strong "Black Friday" amid the worldwide economic crisis. ComScore Inc. this week also said that it is projecting that online spending through the 2008 holiday season will be about the same as last year.

A ComScore consumer survey found that online retail customers have spent $8.2 billion during the first 23 days of November, 4% less than was spent during the same period last year. In addition, the report noted that its projection of flat sales for the holiday season is far below the 9% increase in online sales so far in 2008. ComScore also noted that online sales in 2007 grew by 19% over the previous year.

 "Despite the recent reprieve that plummeting gas prices have given American consumers, the depressed and volatile stock market, declining housing prices, inflation and the weak job market all represent dark clouds hanging over their heads this holiday shopping season," said ComScore chairman Gian Fulgoni in a statement. "With consumer confidence low and disposable income tight, the first weeks of November have been very disappointing, with online retail spending declining versus a year ago. It's also likely that some budget-conscious consumers are planning to wait to buy until later in the season to take advantage of retailers' even more aggressive discounting."

In addition to monitoring online spending, ComScore is also asking the 500 consumers surveyed weekly about their attitudes and sentiment toward the holiday shopping season.

The most recent survey -- done between Nov. 21 and Nov. 24 -- found that 33% of consumers had not yet begun their holiday shopping. Almost half said that they plan to cut back on holiday spending by buying fewer gifts (47%) or buying less expensive gifts (46%). In addition, a significant number (39%) said they plan to take advantage of free shipping offers and the lack of sales taxes on the Internet.

"Assuming the stock market doesn't deteriorate materially during the season and that there is no apocalyptic news of major financial institutions, manufacturers or retailers failing, we should see online spending growth inch back toward positive as we get deeper into the season," added Fulgoni. "However, if there is any more significant bad news just over the horizon, all bets are off."

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