By Philip Elmer-DeWitt
November 30, 2008

In a holiday shopping season that got off to a better start than expected, Apple (AAPL) products sold particularly well — although not as well as last year, judging from sales at Amazon, America’s largest online retailer.

The iPod Touch was Amazon’s No. 1 best-selling electronics item Black Friday morning. By Sunday, however, it had dropped to No. 4 after the Kindle reader, a Canon (CAJ) Powershot camera and a Garmin (GRMN) GPS navigator.

All told, three of Amazon’s top 10 bestselling electronics items — and 10 of the top 25 — were made by Apple. By the end of the holiday shopping season last year, five of the top 10 were Apple’s (link).

In Amazon’s computer department, a $1,170 unibody MacBook was the No. 4 bestseller — after a $320 Asus EEE PC and a pair of Acer Aspires marked down to less than $400. Last Christmas Eve, the No. 1 spot was held by a white MacBook on sale for $1,219 after rebate (link). This year, the same computer selling on Amazon for $968 failed to make the top 25 bestseller list, although a more expensive model with a bigger hard drive came in at No. 13.

By Sunday, five of the top 25 computers on Amazon were MacBooks. According to Kaufman Bros. analyst Shaw Wu, Apple could have done better it had cut its prices a bit more steeply. (link) Discounts at the Apple store this year were in line with 2007, whereas price cutting among Apple’s resellers was considerably more aggressive. See here.

All in all, most analysts were surprised at how well this year’s Black Friday sales went off — the fatal trampling of a Long Island Wal-Mart worker and a fatal shoot-out at a California Toys “R” Us notwithstanding (link). Sales at U.S. retailers the day after Thanksgiving came in at $10.6 billion, 3% higher than last year’s, according to preliminary data from ShopperTrak RCT Corp., a Chicago-based research firm (link).

Online sales were particularly strong, according to Amazon (AMZN) and eBay (EBAY).

PayPal, the online payment service owned by eBay, reported nearly 34% more transactions this year compared with Black Friday 2007. PayPal said its sales numbers reflected a 12% overall rise in U.S. e-commerce for 2008. (link).

UPDATE: Comscore (SCOR) data for the first 28 days of the holiday e-shopping showed a considerably smaller Black Friday bump. According to Comscore’s Sunday press release:

“For the holiday season-to-date, $10.41 billion has been spent online, marking a 4-percent decline versus the corresponding days last year, while Black Friday saw $534 million in online spending, up 1 percent. For the combination of Thanksgiving Day and Black Friday, online sales were up 2 percent relative to last year.” (link)

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