Americans have spent about 12% more online so far this holiday season compared to last year.So far, U.S. online retail spending this holiday season is up about 12% over last year, research firm ComScore said this week.

In five weeks ending Dec. 3, Americans spent $17.5 billion on retail items on the Web, up from $15.7 billion during the same period a year earlier, according to ComScore. More shoppers took to their computers on Thanksgiving Day and the following Monday, so-called Cyber Monday, driving Thanksgiving spending up 28% from a year earlier and Cyber Monday sales up 16%.

Online shopping is growing faster than the 7% to 9% that ComScore had forecast last month, which ComScore Chairman Gian Fulgoni attributes largely to free shipping offers from retailers such as Amazon.com (AMZN) and Walmart (WMT). For the two weeks that ended Dec. 5, some 53% of online transactions included free shipping, up from about 44% in the same period a year earlier, ComScore says.

"Without a doubt, free shipping has become a critical driver of e-commerce purchasing, with the majority of consumers indicating that they will abandon their shopping carts if they get to checkout and find that free shipping is not included," Fulgoni said in a statement Wednesday.

Meanwhile, analysts now expect overall holiday sales will climb as much as 4% above last year's after revenue from the largest shopping day of the year, Black Friday, exceeded expectations.


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