Despite record-breaking online sales during the 5-day shopping period from Thanksgiving through Cyber Monday, the holidays weren’t as merry and bright as retailers had hoped. U.S. shoppers spent $138.65 billion online this holiday season, up 13.6% from $122.00 billion in 2018, Digital Commerce 360 estimates. But seasonal sales were a bit sluggish, missing projections from analysts at several large research firms.

Still, online’s share of total retail sales in November and December soared to 19.2%, up from 17.6% in the prior year, according to Digital Commerce 360. This is the highest recorded ecommerce penetration rate to date. Sales through all channels reached $722.60 billion, a 4.1% lift from $694.32 billion in 2018, according to U.S. Department of Commerce data. Ecommerce accounted for nearly 60.0% of all retail gains during the holiday period.

Digital Commerce 360’s holiday shopping analysis is based on a variety of insights from Commerce Department retail figures, the seasonal performance of individual merchants, Cyber 5 trends, third-party data partners’ findings, consumer confidence measures and surveys of online shoppers. To derive its estimates, Digital Commerce 360 studied holiday data sets that included the number of shoppers, the number of orders, average tickets, conversion rates, website traffic, shipping volume, historical trends in Commerce Department data and Amazon.com Inc.’s historical fourth quarter revenue.

Digital Commerce 360’s estimate is roughly in line with data from research firm Adobe Analytics, which bases its analysis on more than 1 trillion visits to more than 4,500 retail sites and measures transactions from 80 of the top 100 U.S. online retailers ranked in the 2019 Digital Commerce 360 Top 1000. According to Adobe, online holiday revenue hit $142.50 billion from November through December, a 13.1% increase over $126.00 billion in 2018. The group originally forecasted a 14.1% increase and expected ecommerce to reach $143.70 billion for the season.

Software provider Salesforce.com Inc., which also tracks online holiday sales, reported a much weaker showing for the ecommerce market. Online shoppers spent $128.00 billion in the United States, up just 6.0% from the November and December period in 2018, the firm says. In its initial forecast, Salesforce expected more than double that growth with a 13.0% increase to $136.00 billion. The company’s data is aggregated from the activity of more than 500 million holiday shoppers flowing through its Commerce Cloud platform, plus a variety of other engagements that move through its cloud systems.

Retail over the holidays was “a tale of two cities,” says Rob Garf, vice president of industry strategy and insights for retail and consumer goods at Salesforce. There was a strong start to the season and record digital sales for the Tuesday before Thanksgiving through Cyber Monday, but there was a “softening” later in the holiday period, he says. In the week before Christmas, consumers continued to research gifts online but shifted their shopping from online to stores because they were worried about shipping snafus stopping orders from being delivered before the holiday, Garf says.

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