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Amazon and eBay Thrive on Cyber Monday

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At second glance, the holiday retail numbers aren't so bleak, online or in the real world.

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Before freaking out over the crummy numbers from Black Friday store sales, take a look at the much more positive preliminary numbers from holiday sales over the Internet.

For that matter, a closer look at the overall sales numbers, online and offline, suggest that the predictions of a poor holiday season are at least premature if not plain wrong.

Seen overall, the latest reports bear out the prediction that holiday season sales this year will demonstrate that American consumer habits have become truely hybrid -- split between Internet and brick-and-mortar shopping, and aided by the use of mobile devices.

First the bad news: Black Friday in stores was a bust compared to past years. Early numbers from ShopperTrak indicated that traffic at stores Friday fell 11.4% and revenue plunged 13.2% compared with 2012 figures.

But consider this: Black Friday sales at online department store sites grew by 61.4% over 2012, with the percentage of mobile sales growing by 46.4%, according to the IBM Digital Analytics Benchmark. The average order value was $146.84, an increase of 15% over last year.

A record also was set on Thanksgiving Day, with overall online sales up 19.7% year-over-year.

The IBM report is based on data from 800 US retail websites.

At 3 p.m. ET on Monday, IBM followed up with a report that Cyber Monday online sales increased 19% compared with last year.

Another report, from e-commerce marketing firm ChannelAdvisor, said Monday that same-store sales are on track to increase more than 30% compared to last year. That's based on sales numbers from midnight to 10:30 a.m.

By 6 p.m. on Cyber Monday, the numbers were looking particularly good for Amazon (NASDAQ:AMZN), up 44.3% year-over-year, and eBay (NASDAQ:EBAY), up 32.1%, according to ChannelAdvisor.

In yet another tally, the Web analytics company ComScore said e-commerce sales on Thanksgiving and Black Friday rose 17.3% on Thanksgiving and Black Friday combined. That topped its own forecast for 16% growth.

The upbeat news from the online world may not entirely cancel out the down notes from the brick-and-mortar stores, but at the very least it suggests that it's too early for the gloom-meisters to write off the whole season, as some were ready to do before the weekend was over.

Their prognostications were based on a preliminary report on sales over the weekend of the holiday now known this year as Thanksgivikkah for its rare alignment of Thanksgiving Day and the start of Hanukkah. (This bit of sacrilege can be blamed on Instagram, which used the term, if it didn't originate it, in a blog brag about record postings on that date.)

The headline was that Black Friday sales dipped for the first time in four years.

In addition, purchases made in stores and online combined between Thanksgiving Day and Sunday fell 2.9% from 2012, to $57.4 billion, according to a survey from the National Retail Foundation.

Some pundits were quick to point to stagnant wages and general consumer malaise for the poor showing.

But many major chain stores, including Macy's (NYSE:M) and Best Buy (NYSE:BBY) opened their doors on Thanksgiving, some for the first time this year. Some of the most avid shoppers had been and gone by the time the traffic-counters started counting at midnight.

These and other retailers have been promoting their holiday offerings earlier than ever this year. Moreover, all of the big retailers were discounting heavily and promoting bargains even more aggressively than in the past -- a good way to increase foot traffic but decrease revenue.

How avid were those early-bird shoppers? Well, they bought 1.4 million tablet computers at Wal-Mart (NYSE:WMT) stores alone, according to an economist at the Consumer Electronics Association.

The tablet computer is the most popular consumer electronics gift overall so far in the season, the association said, with 29% of electronics buyers choosing one. It did not break down sales by brands.

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No positions in stocks mentioned.
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