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Online Retail Sales Reach Christmas Season Record

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While it’s still too early to know the final outcome of the Christmas shopping season (officially it lasts until Dec. 31), there’s one place where it’s already clear that it’s been a record black season: the Web.

Consumers pulled out all the stops online to spend $36.4 billion by Thursday, the day before Christmas Eve, according to SpendingPulse, a MasterCard Advisors report. That’s a 15.4% increase over last year. Six out of the seven weeks since Oct. 31 marked double-digit rises in online spending, with apparel accounting for 18.8% of overall sales online. In 2009, apparel accounted for 16.9% of spending.

Figures may rise even more with the addition of bricks-and-mortar retail sales; since Christmas fell on a Saturday, many consumers had the day off on Friday, Christmas Eve, to do their last-minute shopping. And there were plenty of procrastinators out getting their lists ticked off at the last minute—with, true to stereotype, many of them men, according to mall staff. In fact, retailers often call Christmas Eve “Father’s Day,” from all the fellows who head out at the last possible minute in search of gifts. A survey from the National Retail Federation showed that as of Dec. 9, 21.4% of men hadn’t even started their shopping.

Shops and malls were crowded; the National Retail Federation expected a 3.3% jump over last year’s spending, to more than $451.5 billion. The year-over-year increase hasn’t been that hefty since 2006; it would also be the biggest total since the record sales figure in 2007 of $452.8 billion.

According to a report in the Christian Science Monitor, however, some analysts are predicting a 5% increase—due in part not only to Christmas Eve’s fall on a holiday Friday, but also to the day after Christmas falling on a Sunday when again shoppers are at liberty to mob the stores in search of after-Christmas bargains.

That could make it the best-ever holiday sales season, with consumers buying more luxuries than they have of late—as well as spending more on themselves, including such items as jewelry and clothing. They aren’t forgetting Fido, either; sales of doggie treats are up as well.

Christmas Eve shopping was up, and some stores, far from reducing prices to entice buyers, actually raised them to take advantage of those desperate last-minute shoppers. Toys R Us and Walmart both, according to reports, saw opportunity knocking and capitalized on it by increasing the prices on popular toys, still selling out on some of the most popular ones.