Final Free-Shipping Week Sets Ecommerce Record

With computer hardware posting the sharpest increase among segments, online retailers enjoy four days last week when sales topped $900 million, making it the heaviest week on record.

Online retailers have continued their momentum this holiday season, posting record sales for the week ending Fri. Dec. 17.

During that week, the last full period when shoppers could expect free shipping with delivery in time for Christmas, four days each saw sales of more than $900 million, according to Web metrics firm comScore, enough to make it the heaviest spending week on record.

The heaviest online shopping day of the week came on what comScore dubs "Green Monday," when consumers spent $954 million. On Friday, termed "Free Shipping Day" for the last day that many retailers were offering free in-time holiday delivery, shoppers spent $942 million, up 61 percent from the same day last year, underscoring retailers' increasing reliance on free shipping offers as a promotional tool, a key tactic in drawing spending away from brick-and-mortar operations.

Together, the week saw ecommerce sales of $5.15 billion, a 14 percent increase over the corresponding period last year.

Since the beginning of November, shoppers have spent $27.46 billion online, up 12 percent from last year. And while last week was the heaviest on record, the Monday after Thanksgiving -- termed "Cyber Monday" as the traditional kickoff to the heavy part of the online holiday shopping season -- saw sales of $1.028 billion, the only billion-dollar day on record.

"While no individual days during the week surpassed $1 billion in spending, we saw strength throughout the week beginning with Green Monday and ending with Free Shipping Day on Friday," comScore Chairman Gian Fulgoni said in a statement. "At this late juncture in the online holiday season, we have likely already witnessed the peak spending day of the year, which means that Cyber Monday should emerge as the season's heaviest online spending day for the first time in history."

Throughout the season, comScore has been monitoring online purchases for free shipping offers, finding that more than half of all orders over the past five weeks were delivered at no charge. By contrast, in 2009, only one week saw a majority of purchases include free shipping.

"Free shipping has certainly become one of the prevalent themes of the 2010 holiday season," Fulgoni said. "Free Shipping Day also appears to have driven a sustained late-season response, with free shipping transactions accelerating in importance in 2010 whereas they actually began to decline during the same period in 2009."

On Friday, 52.7 percent of online purchases came with free shipping offers.

By category, computer hardware has seen the largest year-over-year sales increase this holiday season, up 25 percent since the beginning of November. That segment includes devices like Apple's (NASDAQ: AAPL) iPad and Amazon's (NASDAQ: AMZN) Kindle e-reader.

Consumer electronics and books and magazines followed closely, up 22 percent and 21 percent from last year, respectively.

Kenneth Corbin is an associate editor at InternetNews.com, the news service of Internet.com, the network for technology professionals.

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