April 30, 2003, 12:00 AM

The slowing of online sales

After months of torrid growth, online shopping is taking a breather, according to BizRate.com Inc. and comScore Networks Inc.

After months of torrid growth, online shopping is taking a breather, according to BizRate.com Inc. and comScore Networks Inc. After robust Q1 growth of 27% vs. Q1 2002, e-retail sales growth slacked off to 8% for the week that ended April 7 and 10% for the week that ended April 14, BizRate reports. ComScore reports that growth fell to 5% for the week that ended March 16 and was non-existent for the week that ended April 6 vs. the same weeks a year ago.

While no one is using two weeks of data to predict the maturation of e-shopping, slowing growth is significant because of e-shopping’s lengthy double-digit growth. “Even the 13% growth in March was the lowest year-over-year growth in the past year,” says Gian Fulgoni, chairman of comScore.

The first bumps hit just before the start of the Iraq war, when sales declined 14% on March 17 vs. a year ago and 8% on March 18, BizRate reports. Sales recovered in the first week of the war and exceeded the same week last year by 20%. “This was a planned war and therefore online retail disruption was minimized compared to the shock of September 11th, 2001,” says Chuck Davis, president of BizRate.

Lower growth rates may be the result of softness in a few categories, such as computer hardware or flowers and gifts. Or growth may be affected by broader forces. “We’re seeing not just the effects of online developments, but also of outside factors,” Fulgoni says.

Offline sales, meanwhile, are growing robustly, up 6.3% vs. a year ago for the week ending April 12 and 8.3% the week ending April 19, according to ShopperTrak’s National Retail Sales Estimate. ShopperTrak notes the three-week calendar shift of Easter skewed growth negatively in March and positively in April.

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