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Will E-Commerce Holiday Sales Suffer?

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Thanks to consumers’ economic concerns and the government shutdown this fall, various pundits and researchers are predicting softer e-commerce sales during the 2013 holiday season. However, those predictions are offset by other, more positive outlooks and well, common sense.

The latest sour forecast comes from comScore, which found that U.S. consumers spent 13 percent more on e-commerce – representing $53.2 billion in total sales – for the third quarter of 2013.

Despite the increase – which was fueled in part by a 26 percent increase in e-commerce sales from smartphones and tablets – third quarter sales were down from the second quarter. Plus, macroeconomic indicators suggests “softness in discretionary spending, which offers some cause for concern as we head into the holiday season,” comScore chairman Gian Fulgoni said in a statement from the research firm.

“Although there was evidence of slightly diminished consumer confidence in Q3, a more optimistic take is that increased outlays on large purchases such as new homes and automobiles may have temporarily squeezed other discretionary consumer spending. That said, the trend could still spell a challenging holiday season for retailers this year – particularly given the highly compressed calendar between Thanksgiving and Christmas, which contains six fewer shopping days than last year and is the shortest shopping season since 2002,” Fulgoni said.

Despite consumers’ economic concerns and fewer shopping days this season, comScore’s overall outlook for e-commerce sales remains bright, as does ours. “We are confident that the growth rate in online spending will once again far exceed that in bricks and mortar stores, reflecting the ongoing channel shift to e-commerce,” Fulgoni said.

How can there not be growth? Multiple studies and retailer experience show that consumers are increasingly comfortable with researching and buying online. Many simply want to avoid the stress of shopping in stores during the holidays.

E-commerce growth is unavoidable, particularly as shoppers feel more comfortable with shopping via their mobile devices. M-commerce sales could spike to between $9 and $10 billion in the fourth quarter, according to an unofficial comScore estimate, up from the research firm’s $5.8 billion estimate in the third quarter.

Other research firms predict e-commerce sales hikes for the holiday season. eMarketer revised its holiday sales projections upwards in September, saying that it expects U.S. e-commerce holiday sales to grow around 15.1 percent to $61.8 billion, up from $53.7 billion in 2012.

And, e-commerce platform provider Volusion predicted that global retail e-commerce sales for small and mid-sized businesses would grow about 20 percent.