November 28, 2001, 12:00 AM

Q3 online retail sales are up—it’s a matter of by how much

Depending on which set of figures from two research studies that were released today you believe, online shopping in the third quarter this year experienced either good growth (8.4%) or excellent growth (21%) over Q3 last year.

Depending on which set of figures from two research studies that were released today you believe, online shopping in the third quarter this year experienced either good growth or excellent growth over Q3 last year.

The Census Bureau of the U.S. Department of Commerce and Nielsen/NetRatings both released third-quarter online retail spending numbers today. Both showed growth over the third quarter of last year, although of different magnitudes. The Census Bureau says online retail spending equaled $7.47 billion, up 8.4% from $6.89 billion a year earlier. Nielsen/NetRatings says online retail spending totaled $10.8 billion, up 21% from $8.9 billion in Q3 2000. ComScore Networks Inc., which tracks the buying habits of a cross section of 1.5 million consumers who allow comScore to monitor their web activity, says retail spending (not including travel or event tickets) totaled $6.9 billion in Q3. ComScore does not have year-ago numbers.

Further muddying the results are figures that came out a month ago from Forrester Research Inc. which show online shopping actually shrinking in Q3 vs. a year earlier, totaling $8.18 billion, down from $8.63 billion.

Different methodologies explain some of the different conclusions. The Census Bureau surveys 11,000 retailers about their sales. Nielsen/NetRatings surveys 33,000 consumers from a research panel put together by Harris Interactive about their previous month’s buying activities. Forrester surveys 5,000 consumers from a panel created by Greenfield Online about their previous month’s online purchases.

But maybe the numbers themselves aren’t all that important, says researchers. “When you look at these numbers, you have to accept that different methodologies will give you sharply different results; it’s the trends that you have to pay attention to,” says Sean Kaldor, vice president of analytical services at NetRatings.

The Census Bureau says online retail buying equaled 0.95% of all retail sales, up from 0.89% last year.

Nielsen/NetRatings also measures travel spending and auction buying. With those categories included, Q3 online spending totaled $16.3 billion--$4.26 billion for travel and $1.2 billion in auctions-up 60% from $10.3 billion a year ago. Including travel spending, Forrester says Q3 2001 spending equaled $12 billion, down from $12.47 billion in Q3 2000.

 

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