Holiday web sales seen up on Monday

CHICAGO Mon Dec 1, 2008 11:22am EST

CHICAGO (Reuters) - Retail sales online are expected to surge on Monday as shoppers look for more discounts than they found during the holiday weekend, but overall holiday web sales will remain weak due to the economy, analysts said.

According to a Shop.org survey, conducted this weekend by BIGresearch, 84.6 million consumers plan to shop online from home or at work on Monday, up from 72 million in 2007.

So far, top-selling items online include the Apple iPod and iPhone and the Nintendo Wii game console, according to data from eBay and Amazon.com.

"It was a very soft November, but it should be a much better December," Forrester analyst Sucharita Mulpuru said, noting there is typically a spike in online sales on what some call Cyber Monday, the Monday after Thanksgiving.

Mulpuru said online sales could be up in the low double digits on Monday, when shoppers are expected to make additional purchases at work using faster Internet connections.

Online sales rose 1 percent on so-called Black Friday to $534 million, tracking firm comScore said on Sunday.

Combined with web sales on U.S. Thanksgiving the previous day, the figure rose 2 percent. Sales were down 4 percent in the first 28 days of November from a year ago, comScore said.

The firm also stood by its forecast for total web holiday sales to be flat this year at $29.2 billion, compared with a 19 percent rise in 2007.

The online sales increase for the season is usually about 10 percentage points higher than the increase at traditional retailers because online sales start from a much smaller base, Mulpuru said.

Forrester expects web sales to increase about 12 percent for the holiday shopping season in November and December, their smallest rise ever according to the research group's measurements.

The National Retail Federation on Sunday said it still expects total sales to rise 2.2 percent to over $470 billion during the holiday season.

CREDIT VULNERABILITY

U.S. retailers are facing what could be the weakest sales season since the early 1990s as shoppers contend with falling home sales, reduced access to credit and a weak job market in a declining U.S. economy.

Online sales could also be more vulnerable as consumers rein in spending, especially on their credit cards.

"We expect Cyber Monday to be relatively weak, since it's very credit card sensitive. We're hearing consistent reports of more use of cash and debit cards in stores. That could weigh on Cyber Monday," Richard Hastings, Consumer Strategist, Global Hunter Securities LLC.

But Mulpuru noted there are alternative ways for consumers to pay online, such as with eBay Inc's PayPal system. PayPal said it saw nearly 34 percent more transactions this Black Friday than a year ago, with sales up 26 percent.

Of greater concern is the shorter time this year between Cyber Monday and Christmas -- just 24 days this year compared with 29 last year.

"You just don't have the chance to capture some of the impulse purchases that you get with extra days to shop," Mulpuru said.

(Additional reporting by Michele Gershberg and Martinne Geller in NEW YORK, Editing by Ian Geoghegan)