Note: The Skinny blog is written by Rick Smith, editor and co-founder of WRAL Tech Wire and business editor of

RESEARCH TRIANGLE PARK, N.C. – More people will be spending more money than ever online, with many using their smartphones or iPads to do so, this holiday season.

And a Triangle-based company – ChannelAdvisor – will be involved in many of those transactions.

Several major studies predict that consumers are going to avoid the “Black Friday” store people jams and the ensuing Christmas shopping rush by staying at home or using their phone to shop for bargains online.

Almost half of consumers say they plan to play Santa online this year, according to consulting firm Deloitte. That’s a 13-percent jump from a year ago.

If that projection proves to be correct, the Internet will become “the No. 1 shopping destination” for the first time, Deloitte said. The Net had shared the top spot with discount stores.

Helping fuel the growth is ChannelAdvisor, a privately held global company based in Morrisville that provides e-commerce services such as inventory management and comparison pricing for some of the world’s top retailers as well as web powerhouse

Their mission is to make so-called “couch commerce” easier and more profitable for its customers. In fact, the company reports that shoppers are going mobile with more making purchases online than ever, especially with iPads and other tablets.

“We’re bullish on the outlook for Black Friday, and Cyber Monday,” said Scot Wingo, the company’s founder and chief executive officer. Cyber Monday arose along with the Internet over the past decade as more companies moved goods and sales online to capture a portion of the post-Friday after Thanksgiving rush.

Wingo projects that his customers will set records this coming weekend and through the end of the shopping season. In fact, the rush started earlier than ever this year – in October.

“Our October data showed retailers up on Amazon by 80 percent, eBay up by 13.4 percent and paid search [using advertising dollars to drive search results and sales] up by 20 percent – all setting us up for a strong fourth quarter,” he said. “We’re currently estimating e-commerce growth of around 15-17 percent for our retailers.

“Last year we saw an interesting change – consumers shopped earlier and our record day was Cyber Monday vs. mid-December as it had been before. This year, retailers are offering earlier deals and it will be interesting to see if consumers respond.”

Earlier than Ever Black Friday to Boomerang?

Numerous retailers such as Wal-Mart, Best Buy and Target are opening earlier than ever on Black Friday – or even late on Thanksgiving Day itself in a bid to capture more in-store dollars.

Amazon and others are countering with earlier-than-ever online deals.

“It’s definitely a competitive environment,” Wingo said. “Online, we’re always open, so you see retailers like Amazon starting Black Friday early even now.”

However, Wingo believes these early efforts in stores could boomerang.

“If anything, I think it will increase the hype online since many retailers online retailers are technically open all day, and are running promotions beginning on Thanksgiving day as well,” Wingo said.

“Why ruin your Thanksgiving by fighting traffic, hunting a space just to find the store is out of the size you are looking for?

“Stay home, watch some football, hang out on the couch with your family and get a jump on the holiday shopping by grabbing a tablet and engage in some ‘couch commerce’.”

Online’s Increasing Market Share

Deloitte predicts that overall shopping will increase around 3 percent to some $875 billion from a year ago. That’s an increase of around $26 billion.

However, some $8 billion of that growth is coming through online purchases, showing that the power of e-commerce is slowly but surely eating into the domain of brick-and-mortar stores.

E-commerce is going to surge nearly 17 percent to $46.7 billion, according to eMarketer.

While even at that total online sales only produce just over 5 percent of Christmas sales, the percentage was less than 5 percent in 2010.

ChannelAdvisor sees the growth in the data it gathers 24 hours a day, 365 days a year from customers such as Amazon, eBay, Victoria’s Secret, Saks Fifth Avenue, Office Depot and Dell.

Mobile Shopping Is Surging

Pacing growth for e-commerce deals are people going mobile to shop by using their smartphones. Using “apps” that scan barcodes, these shoppers can comparison shop inside of stores if they choose to fight the crowds.

Or they simply can place an order online from a store rather than wait in long lines and often get free shipping.

Or they can shop while en route to grandma’s house for Thanksgiving dinner.

Analysis firm Webroot forecasts that mobile shoppers will double in number this year alone to nearly 50 percent from 22 percent a year ago based on a survey of 1,215 mobile device users.

Mobile shopping already is establishing deep roots. According to IBM, in October 10 percent of online commerce was generate by mobile buyers. A year ago the percentage was just 3 percent.

Wingo’s own data supports the mobile commerce surge.

“We’re seeing about 6 percent of sales come from non-PC devices,” he said. “Within these, tablets are 4.5 percent and smartphones are 1.5 percent which is interesting.

“Retailers are starting to realize that Tablet and phone behaviors are different and are starting to tailor the shopping experiences.”

Online Sales Statistics Trend Up and Up

Statistics verify the increasing e-commerce trend.

According to eMarketer, online sales have grown from $29.1 billion in 2008 to $34 billion in 2009 and $39.9 billion in 2010. The financial crisis of 2008 drove down e-commerce 7 percent from the preceding year. Now the trend is streaking skyward once more.

“This marks three years of strong online holiday sales and demonstrates the web’s ability to help consumers achieve their holiday gift buying goals in a weak economy,” said Jeffrey Grau, an analyst at eMarketer The title of his report cited key reasons for the growth: “Savings and Convenience Will Drive Strong Growth.”

For the entirety of 2011, eMarketer says e-commerce will produce $195 million in sales, a 16.5 percent from 2010.

Other factors driving online sales include saving on gas, Grau added.

Not Just Young People

Online shopping also does not appeal primarily to young people, Deloitte noted.

Shoppers ages 18-24 plan to do 32 percent of their buying online.

Those 35 and older said they would make 30 percent of their purchase via the Internet.

“One of the effects of a stagnant economy and persistent inflation on consumers’ psyche is a laser focus on price, now the common denominator,” said Alison Paul, a vice chairman at Deloitte. “Retailers need to capture consumers’ attention with convenience, wide merchandise selection and in-store and online product availability. The survey also indicates that digital shopping transcends all age groups, so retailers must ensure they have a targeted online strategy that is consistent with the in-store experience, regardless of the demographic they serve.”

Read the eMarketer study here.

Read the Deloitte study here.

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