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

RESEARCH TRIANGLE PARK, N.C. – Scot Wingo, the big voice for e-commerce who is based in the Triangle but wired in to some of the world’s largest retailers, is bullish about the holiday shopping season.

If early indications are a predictor of what’s to come, all those brick-and-mortar Black Friday specials aren’t going to detract from online sales this weekend or on so-called Cyber Monday or beyond, says the founder and chief executive officer of Morrisville-based ChannelAdvisor.

In fact, early data from the company’s variety of e-commerce services shows people are pointing, clicking, filling carts and buying in strong numbers already.

“In the past, we’ve seen our biggest peaks in traffic during the holiday shopping weekend, but this year we’ve had record-breaking spikes throughout November, proving that consumers are shopping online much earlier than last year,” Wingo said.

ChannelAdvisor released data Tuesday from its variety of e-commerce services as showing the following:

• Marketplaces:

  1. Total Marketplaces same-store sales increased by 32 percent
  2. Amazon same-store sales increased by 65 percent
  3. eBay same-store sales increased by 19 percent

• Paid Search same-store sales increased by 46 percent

• Comparison Shopping Engines show same-store sales increased by 3 percent

In an in-depth Q&A, Wingo predicted what he sees coming through the holiday shopping season. Tablets are going to be hot, he says. Read on for more insight.

What’s the outlook for black Friday? Are you expecting another record? Have you estimated a target?

We’re bullish on the outlook for Black Friday, and Cyber Monday. Our October data showed retailers up on Amazon by 80%, eBay up by 13.4% and paid search up by 20%–all setting us up for a strong Q4. We’re currently estimating e-commerce growth of around 15-17% 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.

Have you upped staff and capacity from a year ago? If so, in what areas?

We’ve continued hiring on a global basis throughout the year across every area of the company from product management and engineering to sales and marketing. There’s still some areas we’re planning to hire, but we are currently well-equipped to handle this holiday season. Unlike a retailer we don’t bring on season people.

Any new tools/apps that might help boost sales on the selling side?

In retail, we spend January-October focused on November-December and this year we built a ton of innovations that are designed to help our customers maximize their sales and profits. Two that I’m particularly excited about:

Inventory Driven Search – This technology allows a retailer to automatically have a paid-search (Google Adwords) campaign created and run right from their inventory information. For example, if you are a retailer and you add a new item to your inventory, the system automatically creates a search campaign for you, generates the keywords and starts selling the new product.

Amazon 360 – Selling on a marketplace like Amazon where the transaction happens off of your website is complex and requires you to keep an eye on a ton of moving parts. This system puts all of those moving parts into one single page interface that is also actionable. It’s really dramatically simplified one of the most complex challenges facing retailers and helps them focus on the strategic aspects vs. tactical.

Are retailers really targeting mobile shopping or making sure their apps work easily with mobile devices/phones?

Savvy retailers are making sure that their stores/apps work easily with mobile and tablet devices so that they can ensure they are never missing out on a sale. Mobile barcode scanning devices like Red Laser and ShopSavvy pull their data from Google Product Search and TheFind.com, so we’re making sure our retailers have their data up to date on those comparison shopping engines.

We’re seeing about 6% of sales come from non-PC devices. Within there, tablets are 4.5% and smartphones are 1.5% which is interesting. Retailers are starting to realize that Tablet and phone behaviors are different and are starting to tailor the shopping experiences.

Are your customers offering more inventory this year?

Inventory was a really big concern last year as many retailers were concerned about the state of the economy and being saddled with a lot of excess inventory due to the economic climate. This year our retailers are still being cautious, but not as much as in previous years. Many of them have tightened and quickened their supply chains, so if they sell out early, they can course correct quickly.

Any differences in prices? Coming down from a year ago?

It’s definitely a competitive environment and I’m sure you’ve seen the retailers that are now opening on the evening of Thanksgiving. Online, we’re always open, so you see retailers like Amazon starting Black Friday early even now.

Any changes in types of inventory that you see/expect?

Nothing yet to report. We can fill you in more as we get past Thanksgiving.

Will tablets be a big item?

Tablets are going to be huge this year, especially with the release of Amazon and Barnes & Nobles new tablets at affordable price points. Specifically, the Amazon Kindle Fire comes with one month’s free membership to Amazon Prime, so it will be interesting to see how much shopping is done on Amazon due to people buying using Amazon’s Prime. It’s a great device at $199 – it gives consumers 80% of the iPad functionality at a fraction of the price.

Do you see some really “hot” buys in early pricing for goods? I know you can’t divulge specifics but any particular companies or types of products that are pricing to move?

I’m not at liberty to divulge, but something interesting to me is how many retailers are planning to use social channels like Facebook and Twitter to share promotions with their fans and followers. We’ve been hearing from the majority of our retailers that they plan to use social in a big way this holiday season. Also, recent pricing reports are showing that sites like eBay and Amazon can save consumers as much as 8-10%.

What’s your hot item this year?

I think the Amazon Kindle Fire is going to be huge—in fact I’m predicting that they’ll sell 5 million units in Q4 alone, which is really impressive for a new device.

Any tips for online buyers to help them find the best deals?

Here are three top tips:

1. Retailers are really beefing up their social marketing – “like” their pages on facebook and follow them on twitter for exclusive ‘fan’ deals.
2. Change up how you search for low prices – look at Google, and comparison shopping engines like NexTag, Shopping.com, PriceGrabber, etc.
3. Be sure to check eBay and Amazon – they tend to have broader selection and great prices. Amazon has a program called Prime that costs $80 and you get all you can eat 2-day shipping, Netflix-like Prime videos and more benefits – it’s one of the biggest ways to save online that a lot of folks don’t know about.

Do you expect there to be any fallout on ecommerce side from more retail stores opening earlier –such as at midnight or even late Thanksgiving day? Could these moves cut down the online traffic and hype?

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. Why ruin your Tgiving 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’.

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