Holiday shoppers are busy online, while leaving physical stores scrambling to salvage the season, retail experts said Monday.
The crucial holiday season started strongly, especially for e-commerce companies Amazon.com and eBay, and the lull that hit last year between Thanksgiving and Christmas has yet to materialize, said Scot Wingo, CEO of ChannelAdvisor, which helps merchants sell more online.
Heavy promotions may have helped prop up sales, he added.
Wal-Mart, the world's largest retailer, launched a new series of online sales this Monday, calling the event "Gold Monday."
Amazon unveiled an interest-free installment plan that lets shoppers buy one of its Kindle Fire HDX tablets over nine months. In the U.K., the company offered 10 pounds off select products if consumers spend 50 pounds by Dec. 24. "I haven't seen them do something that aggressive in a while," Wingo said.
ChannelAdvisor clients are generating same-store sales growth of more than 30% on Amazon.com, compared with the same period last year. On eBay, that number has been in the mid-20% range.
"Online is going to be the darling of the holiday shopping season," said Marshal Cohen, chief retail industry analyst at The NPD Group. "It may grow a little more than the 20% that was expected before the season began. The consumer is spending more time online trying to find deals."
In contrast, physical store retailers have had a tougher holiday season so far. With Christmas nine days away, consumers have completed 44% of their shopping, behind where they should be at this point, Cohen said.
"Some say it's the weather and I say it's a lack of exciting merchandise," he said. "Consumers are waiting for sales and discounts to get better."
Brian Sozzi, CEO of Belus Capital Advisors, a research firm focused on retail, visited five Wal-Mart stores in the New York area recently and found excess seasonal inventory.
Sozzi also spotted lots of clearance racks with items priced 40% to 70% off at J.C. Penney stores and aggressive promotions by Abercrombie & Fitch, Gap and Coach.
A large storm last weekend in the Northeast and Midwest prevented some shoppers from visiting stores. But there is another weekend to go before Christmas and purchases have probably been delayed rather than canceled, analysts said.
"About 50% of shopping will be done in the last week," Cohen said.
Online orders can be placed as late as Dec. 23 for delivery the following day, UPS said.
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