Holiday shoppers aren't just snapping up bargains in stores this weekend — they're prowling the Internet, too. Online shopping traffic was up 10 percent on Black Friday, according to Nielsen Online — a good initial sign for retailers in a shaky economy.
Shopping online is still nowhere near as popular as shopping in stores. But it's been growing fast over the past decade — about 20 percent a year. This year, with the weak economy, some predictions called for no growth at all.
"So 10 percent is actually a pretty good number in the grand scheme of things," says Ken Cassar, an analyst with Nielsen Online.
Nielsen tracked visits to 120 online retailers. Data on visits that resulted in orders won't be available for awhile, but Cassar says that even if the number of orders is up, each order may be for a smaller amount than last year.
The real kickoff for online sales, though, is not Black Friday, but Cyber Monday.
"Consumers get back to work after either relaxing or going to brick-and-mortar stores during the holiday season," Cassar says. "And we do see a material uptick in sales."
Online shoppers have become accustomed to reduced or free shipping during the holiday season — and sometimes, reduced prices if they wait. Cassar says they can expect shipping discounts again this year. As for holding out — that might work if it's not a superhot item.
"If you're looking to buy a Wii, for example, you might not want to play games," he says. "Whereas if you're looking for something like a flat-panel television, the consumer may have a little bit more ability to win that game of brinksmanship."
Online shopping typically increases as the days go on, until the busiest online day — the third Monday after Thanksgiving. This year, that's Dec. 15 — pretty close to the last day shoppers can place an order and be sure it arrives by Christmas.