Despite an economy that refuses to recover, online retail sales increased in 2011. While the overall trend showed an increase when compared to 2010, this does not mean that every online retailer hit it big.

Over a 12 month span, online retail sales were better than expected in 2011. However, this does not tell the entire story. To truly get a better feel, you have to take a close look at the numbers around the holiday season.

Take Black Friday for example. According to Coremetrics, an IBM Corp. research unit, consumers spent roughly 20% more online on Black Friday 2011 than the previous year. On top of this, Thanksgiving Day online sales showed an increased of an astonishing 39%.

comScore noted more of the same. They estimated that online retailers pulled in approximately $35 billion during the 2011 holiday season. This is a 15% increase over 2010.

With more than $1.25 billion being spent on Cyber Monday, it was once again the biggest online shopping day of the year. That being said, strong online retail sales were noted throughout the year. In fact, there were nine additional billion dollar sales days throughout the year.

Which Brands were the Big Winners?

Every year, some online brands perform better than others. Nielsen reported that Amazon used strong traffic (it moved into the top 10 web properties in terms of traffic during November) to lead the way.

As expected, Apple was not far behind. The technology giant came in at number 10 on the “Nielsen Top 10 Web Brands for November 2011” list.

Other big winners included: Target, Kohl’s, and Wal-Mart.

On the downside, Sears and Kmart struggled once again. This held true throughout most of 2011, especially during November and December. In addition to slow online sales, these brands saw a decrease in in-store activity. Subsequently, Sears Holdings has been forced to close 120 Sears and Kmart stores throughout the country.

What does the future hold? With the economy on the road to recovery and consumers looking for new ways to save money, there is a good chance that 2012 online retail sales will top 2011.

How did your affiliate sales stack up in 2011 compared to past years?