February 4, 2011, 12:17 PM

E-retail grows 9.8% in 2010, comScore says

Online retail sales in the fourth quarter were up 11% from 2009.

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comScore chairman Gian Fulgoni expects to see double-digit growth in e-commerce this year.

Bouncing back smartly from the recession, online retail sales increased 11% in the fourth quarter of 2010 from the previous year, and full-year 2010 sales were up 9.8% over 2009, web measurement firm comScore Inc. reported today.

Fourth quarter e-retail sales totaled a record $43.432 billion, versus $39.045 billion a year earlier. For the full year, online retailers sold $142.491 billion worth of merchandise, up from $129.797 in 2009.

“Retail e-commerce had a strong fourth quarter, growing 11% versus last year as holiday season spending was bolstered by an improving sentiment among some consumer segments and by retailers’ discounting and promotions,” says comScore chairman Gian Fulgoni. “The 2010 holiday season saw the first billion-dollar day on record and several more surpassing $900 million to help propel Q4 to record spending levels. We anticipate that the progress we’ve seen in the past year as we climbed out of the recession will continue with sustained double-digit growth rates in 2011.” E-retail sales totaled $1.028 billion on the Monday after Thanksgiving, the first day ever to exceed $1 billion, according to comScore.

ComScore had earlier reported that sales for the 2010 November-December holiday season were up 12% from the year before.

The fourth quarter was the second three-month period of 2010 to register double-digit growth. Q1 e-retail sales increased by 10% year over year, while growth dipped to 9% in the second and third quarters, according to comScore, which bases its estimates on data collected from about 1 million online consumers in the U.S. who agree to have their online activity tracked.

A notable feature of the fourth quarter was the high percentage of Internet users who made at least one purchase on the web—84%. That’s up from 78% in Q4 2009 and 69% a year earlier, according to comScore.

The 25 largest online retailers accounted for 68.4% of e-retail purchases in the fourth quarter, up 5.6 percentage points from Q4 2009, but down from 69.9% in the third quarter of 2010. That decline from the third quarter suggests that smaller and midsized retailers also are rebounding from the recession, comScore says.

Among the top-performing retail categories in the fourth quarter were computer software (excluding PC games), consumer electronics, books and magazines (excluding digital downloads), computers/peripherals/PDAs, and toys and hobbies. All those categories grew by at least 15% in the fourth quarter over the prior year.

Among the weakest categories were sports and fitness and home furnishings. Apparel grew by slightly less than the 11% overall gain for e-commerce in the fourth quarter, says a comScore spokesman who declined to provide more detail by category.

The comScore results provide a measure of how far e-retail has come in recovering from the recession. The 9.8% growth for all of 2010 is a stark contrast from the 0.2% decline in e-retail sales in 2009 vs. 2008. And, while the 11% growth rate is well above total retail growth that consulting firm Kantar Retail estimates at 6.1% for Q4, it’s still well below the 19% growth rate for online retail that comScore registered in the fourth quarter of 2007, before the economy tanked.

The comScore report represents perhaps the most authoritative estimate of e-retail sales based on consumer data as it draws on actual activity by some 1 million online shoppers in the U.S. The most closely watched e-retail estimate based on merchant data comes from the U.S. Commerce Department, which surveys more than 11,000 U.S. retailers each quarter about their online sales. The Commerce Department will issue its fourth quarter and full-year 2010 e-commerce report Feb. 17.

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