NEW YORK (CNNfn) - What a way to end a millennium.|
Retailers had their calculators working on overtime Monday as they added up the tally for the 1999 holiday shopping season.
Shoppers spent about $184 billion this holiday, up more than 6 percent from last year -- making 1999 the strongest shopping season in a decade.
Separately, an Internet research firm pegged the online shopping total at more than $8 billion, more than the revenues tallied for all of 1998.
TeleCheck Services Inc., a Houston-based check acceptance company, said Monday that same-store sales for the holidays were up 6.2 percent over the same period last year.
TeleCheck, a subsidiary of Atlanta-based First Data Corp. (FDC), named Thursday, Dec. 23, as the busiest shopping day of the season, beating out Saturday, Dec. 18. The Saturday before Christmas had been the biggest shopping day for the last four years.
"With strong economic conditions, good shopping weather and a tranquil political environment, consumers were in the mood to spend heavily this season,” William Ford, TeleCheck’s senior economic advisor.
Wal-Mart Stores Inc. (WMT), the world’s No. 1 retailer, reported sales were on track during the week ended Dec. 24 to meet company expectations for the month, and noted strong holiday weekend sales.
The Bentonville, Ark.-based company also said its Sam’s Clubs warehouse unit beat the company’s expectations for same-sale growth.
Meanwhile, Visa International, operator of the world’s largest consumer payment system, said that for the period of Nov. 25 through Dec. 20, it processed $58.5 billion in transaction value, up 24 percent from the same period last year.
Market research firm Forrester Research Inc. estimated before the season started that revenue from Internet retailers between Thanksgiving and Christmas would total $4 billion.
But that prediction now looks a bit too conservative, the company's analysts said.
"It now looks like the season will exceed our expectations," analyst Evie Dykema told Reuters Monday.
The company has no figures for last year's holiday season, but she noted that e-retailer revenues in the fourth quarter would total in excess of $8 billion, more than revenues for all of 1998.
"It's become a much more mature channel for business," Dykema said of Internet retailing. "Clearly you have more Internet users online. But we also have retailers who understood the spike in demand and have developed the means for fulfilling them."
In the week ending Dec. 19, the number of visitors to electronic commerce sites jumped 37 percent from the same week a year ago, according to research firm Media Metrix.
Doug McFarland, senior vice president and general manager of Media Metrix, declared Amazon.com (AMZN) "the overwhelming winner of the season.”
Traffic to Amazon.com in the week ending Dec. 19 totaled an average of nearly seven million daily visitors, double the amount of last year, Media Metrix said.
Amazon, which began as a bookseller in 1995, expanded this year into home improvement items, toys, software and video games. The company has yet to turn a quarterly profit.
Amazon spokesman Bill Curry declined to release sales figures, but said it was a very strong holiday season.
"We have a good feeling,” he said. "We saw strength across the product line.”
Not so merry
But it wasn’t all tinsel and good cheer for e-commerce. There were some dreaded holiday fruitcakes on the horizon.
Several online retail stocks, including Amazon, eBay (EBAY) and eToys (ETYS), got hammered on Monday.
Also, while most preliminary research indicates most Americans are satisfied with their online shopping experience, there were nasty scraps in cyberspace.
Internet toy stores were among the hardest hit, as they were periodically swamped, failed to promptly answer customer queries, and didn’t deliver the goods on time.
Holiday gremlins whacked ToysRus.com last week when it said overwhelming demand would prevent the company from delivering as much of 5 percent of its orders by Christmas. KBKids.com and eToys also had some trouble delivering on time.
Robertson Stephens downgraded eToys’ stock Monday to "long-term attractive” from "buy.”
"You build a boat and it is great for a nice, sunny day, but go out in a hurricane and see who can make it,” said Lauren Cooks Levitan, the analyst who issued the eToys’ downgrade. "That’s what happened a lot to the toy sites this Christmas.”
-- from staff and wire reports.