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Online retail spending reached $25.5 billion during the holiday season’s e-commerce period–Nov. 1 to Dec. 23 (the last day to purchase online with the possibility of delivery by Christmas Eve)–or a decrease of 3% vs. the corresponding shopping days in 2007, according to comScore (via Retailer Daily).

comScore had expected year-over-year sales to be flat, said comScore chairman Gian Fulgoni.

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“This marks the first time we’ve seen negative growth rates for the holiday season since we began tracking e-commerce in 2001,” Fulgoni said. “The combination of having five fewer shopping days between Thanksgiving and Christmas and the severe economic headwinds faced by consumers has made this a really tough season for retailers, both offline and online.”

Q4 E-Commerce Spending

The growth rate for Q4 to date compared with the same period a year ago will end up looking marginally worse than the holiday season results, comScore said.

For the period October 1 to December 28 compared with the same calendar days in 2008, e-commerce spending is down 4%, to 36.8 billion.

The fourth quarter of 2008 will also mark the first full quarter to record a negative growth rate since comScore began tracking e-commerce.

Apple, Amazon among Top Traffic Gainers in Dec.

Despite soft online sales this holiday season, consumers continued to shop online for the best deals. In the period December 1-24 vs. the corresponding shopping days last year, several top retailers achieved growth in visitation to their sites.

eBay (NASDAQ:EBAY) remained the most visited retail site with 85.4 million visitors but had a slight decline of 4% in visitors, while three of the top 5 most-visited sites recorded gains.

Amazon Sites (NASDAQ:AMZN) grew 7% to 76.2 million visitors, followed by Wal-Mart (NYSE:WMT) (up 4% to 51.5 million visitors), Target (NYSE:TGT) (down 1% to 46.8 million visitors), and Apple Inc. (NASDAQ:AAPL) (up 19% to 35 million visitors).

Source: comScore: Q4 and Holiday Online Retail Sales Decline