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Online Holiday Sales Predicted to Hit Record High This Year

By and large, holiday shoppers are choosing the Internet over crowded, stress-inducing physical stores. Crazy, right?
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The lines at your favorite brick-and-mortar stores might be a little bit shorter this season. Not because people aren't shopping -- but because they're doing it online.

Forrester Research released its 2013 U.S. Online Holiday Retail Forecast Monday, which reveals that holiday shoppers are by and large choosing the Internet over crowded, stress-inducing physical stores. Crazy, right?

Online sales are predicted to generate $78 billion in the U.S. between Nov. 1 and Dec. 31, which is up by a significant 15 percent from last year. (According to Adobe, $1.5 billion will be spent online on Black Friday alone.) Some other interesting stats:

• People are spending more: On average, an individual will spend $472 for the season, versus $419 in 2012. • 61 percent of online consumers agree they do it because it's easier than going to a store. • Mobile shopping is growing rapidly: It accounted for 16 percent of overall sales in 2012, a number that is sure to jump this year. • By the end of 2013, 41 percent of all retail purchases will have been influenced by online research or shopping.

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So how can brands take advantage of these digital-obsessed shoppers? They can whip their online and mobile experiences into shape, for starters. Additionally, surveys conducted by Forrester showed that shoppers are more likely to buy from a site that offers free shipping, better deals than other sites, express checkout and free returns by both mail and in-store.

Brands would also be smart to maximize cross-channel benefits, taking into account that shoppers often do research online before going to a store, not to mention they're equipped with smartphones while browsing in retail doors. Efforts could include self-service (here's a good recent example of that) or dedicating sales people to help shoppers who want out-of-stock items on shelves to find it online.

Another tidbit: Email lists still work to attract repeat shoppers. I guess I'm the only one who almost never looks in my "promotions" inbox since Gmail started organizing all that. But perhaps this means I should...