Holiday shoppers took to the Web in droves to purchase gifts in 2003, spending significantly more online than they did in 2002, according to preliminary figures released by market researcher and consultancy comScore Networks Inc.

Holiday online retail spending, excluding travel and auctions, reached US$12.5 billion in 2003, up 29.5 per cent over 2002, according to comScore, which defines the holiday shopping season as the period between Nov. 1 and Dec. 31. ComScore had expected an increase of between 25 per cent and 30 per cent.

For the full year, online retail spending, excluding travel and auctions, grew 22 per cent over 2002 to US$52 billion. Including travel, the total was US$93 billion, up 27 per cent over 2002.

The increase can be attributed to several factors, according to comScore analyst Graham Mudd, including:

– new online buyers, expanding the base of shoppers from last year;

– increased spending from existing online buyers, who get more comfortable shopping online with experience, thus boosting the amount they spent and the variety of products they purchased, including more expensive items such as home and garden products, jewelry, furniture and appliances;

– easier and more secure shopping experiences as merchants improved their Web sites;

– and a growth in broadband subscribers, who are more likely to buy online than their dial-up counterparts.

Online travel was a particularly shining segment, with sales growing 35 per cent over 2002, according to comScore.

The comScore figures are extrapolated from actual sales data captured from the buying activity of over 1.5 million consumers worldwide at more than 50,000 U.S.-based online shopping sites, Mudd said. The consumers agreed to let comScore track their online browsing and buying activity.