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How Amazon and eBay Stole Christmas


These two names may scoop a hefty share of holiday shopping sales this year.

Real-world retailers must be gritting their teeth waiting for the last possible shipping date before the holidays to expire, but that won't help much. The world's worst procrastinators can still order an Amazon (NASDAQ:AMZN) e-Gift card, complete with holiday-themed art, for instant delivery by email, or to print at home.

Barring a last-minute stampede to the stores, it's shaping up to be a weak holiday season for brick-and-mortar retailers.

But online-only retailers don't look like they have much reason to fret. And, it appears that Amazon and eBay (NASDAQ:EBAY) may turn out to be the e-tailers that stole Christmas this year.

No retailers, online or off, are releasing any hard numbers yet, but there are plenty of hints in external data.

Last week, ChannelAdvisor said Amazon's same-store sales were up 39% for the period from November 28 through December 15 compared to the previous year, while eBay sales were up 20.9%.

Overall, a retail industry analyst told The Seattle Times that he was upping his estimate of the share of holiday season sales that will be spent online to about 40%, from an earlier projection of 33% to 34%.

That compares with just 26% in the 2012 holiday season.

The latest data from Experian Marketing Services, for the week that ended December 14, shows that Amazon received 25.39% of all retail site visits, more than three times the number of its nearest competitor. Wal-Mart (NYSE:WMT) came in second at 7.49%, followed by Target (NYSE:TGT) at 3.57%, Best Buy (NYSE:BBY) at 2.12%, and Kohl's (NYSE:KSS) at 1.93%. (eBay does not appear on the list.)

Granted, that sounds like a Doomsday scenario, but it measures only site hits, not actual purchases online or off.

But that's why everyone's email inbox was stuffed with special offers of "up to" 80% off last weekend. Retailers spent the weekend competing with each other for the most enticing sale prices.

And if you want to show up at a real-world store, no problem. Best Buy extended store hours to 7 a.m. to midnight through Monday. Toys 'R' Us will be open for 87 consecutive hours. Kohl's is going for 100 hours straight.

Retailers are clearly still hoping for an eleventh-hour surprise from procrastinators. Last weekend, their hopes were buoyed by relatively mild weather in much of the country.

The mall stalwarts are offering deep discounts - American Eagle (NYSE:AEO) marked down sportswear by 40%, and Victoria's Secret (NYSE:LB) is throwing a buy two, get one free sale.

The deals were online as well. Macy's (NYSE:M) was offering an extra 15% off on Sunday. Target had clearance savings of up to 60% on gift items online, and in-store sales with up to 50% off, plus an offer for those instant e-Gift cards.

The National Retail Federation expects holiday sales to be up 3.9% over last year. That number combines online and real-world shopping.

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