Online holiday sales are off to a robust start, with mobile and social media helping shoppers figure out where and what to buy.
Black Friday sales online were particularly strong this year, jumping 26 percent over last year and exceeding $1 billion for the first time, according to Web measurement firm comScore Networks.
Researchers found mobile devices to be one factor contributing to the surge in online sales. And while social networks didn't drive a ton of sales, many shoppers used social media to research purchases and locate deals.
ComScore released data showing that online spending also surged on Thanksgiving Day, confirming reports that consumers were responding to retailers' efforts to start shopping ahead of the traditional Black Friday kickoff.
Shoppers spent an estimated $633 million online on Thanksgiving Day, up 32 percent over the same day last year, comScore found. Some 57.3 million Americans shopped online on Black Friday, up 18 percent over 2011. The top three online retailers visited the day after Thanksgiving this year were Amazon, Walmart and Best Buy, in that order, comScore said.
Offline retail sales were not as strong this year. ShopperTrak, which monitors in-store traffic, reported that brick-and-mortar store sales on Black Friday were down 1.8 percent from last year.
IBM Digital Analytics also saw a big jump in Black Friday online sales, and IBM researchers surveyed shoppers about their use of mobile devices this past week. They found that nearly one in four had visited a retailer's site from a mobile device. IBM reported that 16 percent of all online purchases on Black Friday were made from a mobile device, and nearly 10 percent were from an iPad.
That's not surprising considering market researchers at Nielsen released a report last summer saying 47 percent of people with smart phones use a shopping app of some kind. EBay's and Amazon's mobile apps were the two most popular with consumers studied by Nielsen, but the next three most popular mobile apps were all deal-oriented services: Groupon, Shopkick and LivingSocial.
A survey by research firm Steelhouse found 44 percent of online shoppers purchased something they had seen recommended via social media. More specifically cited Facebook than any other network.
Retail service company LivePerson reported that its research shows social networks are popular with shoppers for different reasons. Shoppers tend to favor Twitter for product reviews, Facebook for discounts, and Pinterest for finding ideas for holiday gifts, LivePerson concluded.