More Shoppers Using Computers, Rather Than Malls

NEW YORK (AP) -

More often shoppers are making the decision to sit on their couches rather than head to stores this season.

Online sales growth so far this shopping season is surpassing growth in sales at physical stores, according to First Data, which analyzed online and in-store payments from Oct. 31 through Monday.

Sales growth for stores is up 2 percent, while online sales rose 4.6 percent, according to First Data, which declined to give dollar figures, citing proprietary reasons.

Total spending, including sales in both physical stores and online, climbed 2.4 percent, stronger than the 1.8 percent growth during the same period last year.

While physical stores still account for the majority of spending, the uneven growth between buying at locations and on websites signals the continuation of a big shift in how U.S. consumers are shopping.

This season, the weather appeared to provide an extra lift to online sales, analysts said. While unseasonably warm weather has hurt overall sales of cold-weather items, it appears to be driving more shopping to buy on their PCs or mobile phones since they don’t want to waste a pleasant day inside a mall.

“Store traffic is down everywhere, and it’s compounded by the weather,” said Steven Barr, U.S. retail and consumer sector leader for PwC. “We do believe that warm weather is driving consumers online.”

The big question, he asks, is whether warm weather is the number one reason or a secondary reason shoppers are heading online this season.

The overall shift to online spending is largely due to more retailers working to improve their websites and offer speedier delivery on orders placed online. As a result, shoppers, who increasingly are looking for convenience, are spending more of their budgets online.

That’s led to a big gap in some product categories between online and physical stores. According to First Data, clothing and accessories stores had a 2.9 percent sales decline so far this season, compared with a 3.7 percent increase online. Furniture and home furnishings store sales slipped 0.5 percent, while online increased 8.1 percent.

First Data doesn’t make predictions for year-end-shopping-season sales. But the National Retail Federation, the nation’s largest retail trade group, expects sales for November and December to rise 3.7 percent to $630.5 billion.