The Web measurement firm attributed the falloff to five less shopping days in 2008 between Thanksgiving and Christmas and the impact of the recession on consumer spending. ComScore had predicted that sales from Nov. 1 to Dec. 23 would be flat to last year, at $26.3 billion. The total came in shy, at $25.5 billion.
The 3% dip this year contrasts sharply with the 19% increase in holiday online retail sales in 2007. ComScore said e-commerce spending for the fourth quarter--from Oct. 1 to Dec. 28--would be down 4% to $36.8 billion compared to last year. It would also be the first full quarterly decline since comScore began tracking e-commerce figures in 2001.
Online retailers got a glint of hope in an otherwise dreary shopping season when Cyber Monday (Dec. 1) sales jumped 15% over 2007 following an increase of only 1% on Black Friday. But the uptick in early December could not make up for the overall pullback in consumer buying.
Despite the downturn, Amazon last week boasted its best holiday season ever. The online retailing giant did not provide financial details to back up its claim, but cited a record number of orders, including 6.3 million on its peak shopping day of Dec. 15.
Traffic to Amazon.com in December was up 7% from a year ago to 76.2 million unique visitors, according to comScore. Walmart.com had a modest 4% increase to 51.5 million, while eBay, the biggest retail site, dropped 4% to 85.4 million.
The online stores of other major retailers fared even worse than Wal-Mart. Traffic to the sites of Best Buy, JCPenney, Toys R Us and Circuit City was flat to down by up to 21%.
The popularity of the iPhone, iPod and other Apple products proved a strong draw for holiday shoppers, however, with traffic to the company's site up 19% to 35 million. The site of rival computer maker Hewlett-Packard also enjoyed a surge in interest, spiking 28% to 19.4 million visitors.
Whether, or how much, the increased traffic translated into higher sales for Apple and HP is difficult to say, however, since neither company has disclosed online results yet for the period.