Smart phones boost online sales

From her headquarters office at online retail operator GSI Commerce, Fiona Dias can see the parking lot of the giant, real-world King of Prussia shopping complex. "The mall was packed Black Friday," says Dias, "but I didn't see tons of shopping bags."

The National Retail Federation said the number of online shoppers has increased one-third so far this Christmas shopping season vs last year, a lot faster than the real-world variety. Dias, head of strategy and marketing for GSI, says that means bigger profits for her company, which runs Websites and online logistics and deliveries for Toys R Us, Dick's Sporting Goods, Bath and Body Works, and 100 other big store chains. 

Dias says online sales rose across the board: "luxury apparel, value apparel, sporting goods, home products, beauty products." She credited, in part, stores' willingness to eat delivery charges: "Any retailer who thinks free shipping is optional is sorely mistaken. You cannot compete with Amazon if you don't offer free shipping." Doesn't that cut profits? GSI cuts costs with high volume and a tight relationship with United Parcel Service, Dias insisted. 

Last year GSI's busiest minute came on "Cyber Monday" after Thanksgiving 2009, in the evening following working hours, when the company rang 789 orders in a minute. But at 11:27 pm Thanksgiving night, GSI beat that record, logging 797 orders. The iPad, Android Verizon phones and other mobile Internet devices have boosted Thanksgiving shopping, Dias says: "Customers were out and about, away from their desktops or laptops - and they were buying."