December 17, also known as Free Shipping Day because it’s the last day you could get free shipping for pre-Christmas online purchases, was the busiest spending day in online history.

Market researcher comScore said that Free Shipping Day generated $942 million in online sales, up 61 percent from a year earlier. The numbers so far show that this season has been the busiest ever for online retail sales. That’s both a good leading economic indicator for the overall economy, as well as an indicator that online sales are taking market share away from physical retail stores. It shows that online retailers are figuring out how to promote their goods so that consumers make their last minute purchases online instead of in crowded malls.

Online shopping has been strong all season. Free Shipping Day (when 1,500 online merchants offered free shipping) was eclipsed by Cyber Monday (Nov. 29), which saw sales of $1.028 billion, and by Green Monday (Dec. 13), at $954 million. Year to date, the first 47 days of the November-December shopping season generated $27.46 billion in sales, up 12 percent from a year ago. Cyber Monday is now expected to become the busiest shopping day of the year; that’s a first for the first Monday after Thanksgiving.

In the most recent week, online sales were $5.50 billion, up 14 percent from a year ago. Four days this season have surpassed $900 million in sales. Free Shipping Day occurs later in the season each year as retailers get more efficient at shipping goods. At least half the transactions of the past five weeks have used free shipping, said Gian Falconi, chairman of comScore. Free shipping has enabled consumers to shop longer and get better deals before they finally decide to place online orders.

For the season, computer hardware is the top-growth category, with sales up 25 percent compared to last year. Purchases of Apple iPads, eBook readers, and laptops drove much of the growth. Low pricing on flat-panel TVs continues to drive sales in consumer electronics, which grew 22 percent. Books and magazine sales were up 21 percent, computer software was up 16 percent, and toys were up 15 percent.

[photo credit: shopsland]

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