November 5, 2009, 12:00 AM

E-commerce sales fell 2% in the third quarter, comScore says

U.S. online retail spending fell 2% in the third quarter to $29.6 billion, marking the first time on record that shopping at retail web sites declined for two consecutive quarters, according to comScore Inc.

U.S. online retail spending fell 2% year over year in the third quarter to $29.6 billion, marking the first time on record that shopping at retail web sites declined for two consecutive quarters, according to web measurement firm comScore Inc. Online sales have now fallen in three of the past four quarters.

Part of the third quarter’s e-commerce decline can be attributed to the government’s Cash for Clunkers program that ran from late July through Labor Day, according to a comScore spokesman. “Any time consumers are spending discretionary income it takes away from other discretionary purchases, which almost all online shopping is,” he says.

For the fourth quarter comScore anticipates marginal positive growth. “With retailers gearing up for the online holiday shopping bonanza, and a fourth quarter that will include easier comparisons against a year ago, we are hopeful that this Christmas season will be merrier than the last," says comScore chairman Gian Fulgoni.

Among the factors that will help fuel fourth quarter growth, according to comScore, are free shipping offers. In the third quarter 42% of transactions included free shipping, up from 35% of transactions in Q3 a year ago.

"Free shipping has become an increasingly essential promotion in the e-commerce marketer`s toolkit," says Fulgoni. "The retailers who do not offer free shipping deals this holiday season may find themselves at a significant disadvantage versus those who do."

Here are the year over year e-commerce sales percentage changes since 2007:

  • Q1 2007, 17%
  • Q2 2007, 23%
  • Q3 2007, 23%
  • Q4 2007, 19%
  • Q1 2008, 11%
  • Q2 2008, 13%
  • Q3 2008, 6%
  • Q4 2008, -3%
  • Q1 2009, 0%
  • Q2 2009, -1%
  • Q3 2009, -2%

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