As of mid-December 2011, six of the largest online spending days ever in the United States had been seen during the holiday shopping season.

So it's not surprising that the holiday shopping season of November and December of last year proved to be the biggest ever.

According to comScore, the total haul for online retailers was a whopping $37.2bn, up 15% from the prior year.

All told, American consumers collectively spent more than a billion dollars on ten individual days. The biggest day: Cyber Monday, with $1.25bn in spending.

By almost all measurements, the 2011 holiday shopping season was a landmark one. It cemented the notion that having a solid online presence isn't optional for retailers wanting to succeed. Indeed, as comScore chairman Gian Fulgoni noted:

With brick-and-mortar holiday retail estimated to have grown about 4 percent this year, it’s clear that e-commerce continues to gain market share from traditional retail due to the attractiveness of the Internet’s convenience and lower prices. Consumers were especially attracted to the deals and discounts available through digital channels – particularly free shipping, which occurred on well over half of transactions this season.

The big question now, of course, is just how profitable retailers were this holiday season. Moving product isn't nearly as difficult as moving product profitably, and there are indications at least some retailers sacrificed the bottom line to boost the top line.

With this in mind, the holiday shopping season should serve as a reminder to online retailers: strategy matters.

From analytics to email marketing, savvy online retailers have plenty of tools that, when employed thoughtfully, can help maximise margins, even in difficult economic environments. When publicly-traded retailers report their earnings for calendar Q4, we may learn which are savvy and which aren't.

Patricio Robles

Published 5 January, 2012 by Patricio Robles

Patricio Robles is a tech reporter at Econsultancy. Follow him on Twitter.

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