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Black Friday Sales Take Off Like Santa's Sleigh

Online sales rise significantly as the holiday buying season heats up.
Christmas bells were ringing for online retailers on Black Friday, as online spending was up significantly year over year, according to industry watchers.

Consumers spent $196 million online the Friday after Thanksgiving, up 30% from last year, says analyst firm comScore Networks. Nontravel sales grew 40% to $151 million, while travel sales rose 7% to $44.7 million. Computer hardware, consumer electronics, and apparel were the top three nontravel E-commerce categories Thanksgiving Day and Friday.

The largest factor behind the increase is the volume of people buying online--a jump of more than 30%, according to comScore.

And those who are venturing online to buy are experiencing fewer hang-ups. Despite the higher volumes, an index of 40 consumer-oriented sites compiled by Keynote Systems Inc. performed "at least on par" with levels recorded a year ago, according to Matt Parks, Keynote's director of product management. The Consumer 40 index is made up of travel, retail, portal and search, and brokerage firms. Keynote is an online performance-management firm.

Consumer 40 component Wal-Mart, for example, "greatly improved" its site performance Nov. 27, Parks says. "It was noticeably improved from previous weeks. Availability went up" as did performance. Keystone measures the average time it takes to download home pages over a standard dial-up connection.

Another estimate, from BizRate.com, was even more upbeat. BizRate says online sales jumped 61% to $234 million. BizRate is an online comparison-shopping site that monitors more than 2,000 online retail merchants. Month-to-date sales ballooned 37% to $5.4 billion.

America Online said its members spent approximately $1.09 billion online over the seven days ended Sunday, an increase of 26% over the year-ago period. According to preliminary estimates, 4 million AOL members made an online purchase last week, spending an average of $269 per shopper.

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