Wal-Mart and Best Buy marked Thanksgiving on Thursday 22 November with heavy online promotions aimed at jumpstarting the holiday sales season. But their websites are unlikely to provide the boost to sales that they did last year.
Internet sales are poised to slow with the rest of holiday spending this year, as US consumers suffer from higher food and fuel costs, compounded by the worst housing slump since 1991.
Analysts say online spending through websites, which now accounts for more than 3 per cent of all retail sales, will climb 20 per cent to $29.5 billion in November and December. That is lower than the 26 per cent growth in online sales during last year''''s holiday season.
End-of-the-year selling, which normally accelerates in the US after Thanksgiving and up to New Year, will increase this year at the slowest pace seen in five years, say analysts.
Total retail sales in November and December will advance just 2.5 per cent over last year, the slowest in three years, according to the New York-based International Council of Shopping Centres, which represents mall owners.
The National Retail Federation and TNS Retail Forward have both forecast the smallest holiday sales gain in five years, as consumers struggle with higher food and gasoline prices.
Black Friday - the day after Thanksgiving when retailers'''' ledgers are first supposed to reflect a profit - is among the biggest shopping days of the year. Traditionally, it marks the start of the holiday shopping season. Thanksgiving falls on the fourth Thursday of November.
On ''''Cyber'''' Monday 26 November, almost three-quarters of US retailers have heavy online promotions planned to lure shoppers returning to work after the Thanksgiving holiday. That''''s twice the online promotions as two years ago. But studies show the busiest day for online shopping doesn''''t come until more than two weeks later, around 10 or 12 December.
The push for online shopping makes sense, because it''''s so much cheaper for businesses. Internet sales climbed 17 per cent in the first 18 days of November from a year ago. This year, retailers are using their websites more to drive traffic into stores than for online sales.
But Wal-Mart announced it will discount twice as many items on its website as last year. It also offered online-only specials on Thanksgiving. HSN.com, Adidas and Barnes & Noble have also planned online-only specials. Best Buy has added customer product reviews to its website and launched a Spanish site last week.