Grim forecast for holiday e-commerce sales

First 23 days of November portend flat growth for 2008 holiday e-commerce spending, says comScore

Judging by the first 23 days of November, retailers can expect flat spending growth for the 2008 holiday e-commerce season, predicts Web measurement firm comScore.

For the holiday season to date, US$8.2 billion has been spent online, marking a 4 percent decline as compared to the corresponding days last year.

Looking ahead, comScore projects that holiday online retail spending for the November-to-December period will total US$29.2 billion, which is flat compared to the year-ago season. In terms of growth, it's a huge letdown after last year's growth rate of 19 percent during the holiday season. It's also a reversal of the 9 percent retail e-commerce growth logged between January and October of this year, when retailers took in US$102.1 billion (up from US$93.6 billion during the same period in 2007).

Not surprisingly, the economy is to blame.

"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."

Fulgoni expects to see online spending growth inch up as the season advances -- barring any "apocalyptic news of major financial institutions, manufacturers or retailers failing" or serious deterioration of the stock market. "If there is any more significant bad news just over the horizon, all bets are off," he said.

ComScore has been surveying consumers to gauge their holiday shopping plans. In the most recent survey, conducted between November 21 and November 24, respondents said they plan to cut back on holiday spending by buying fewer gifts (cited by 47 percent), buying less expensive gifts (46 percent), using coupons (37 percent), and spending more time searching for deals (32 percent).

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