March 1, 2011, 12:00 AM

A strong fourth quarter helps power online retail to 15% growth in 2010

E-commerce accounted for a bigger share of total retail sales last year, and is growing faster than sales in physical stores, according to the U.S. Department of Commerce. Online retail sales reached $165.4 billion in 2010, up 14.8% from 2009.

2010 was a good year for e-commerce. U.S. e-commerce sales totaled $165.4 billion in 2010, up 14.8% from $144.1 billion 2009, according to an estimate by the U.S. Department of Commerce. The report released last month also shows e-commerce represents a bigger share of retail sales and is growing far faster than physical store sales.

4.2% of total retail spending took place online during 2010, up from 3.9% in 2009, the Commerce Department reports. When excluding sales in categories not commonly bought online—automobiles, fuel, grocery and food service purchases—Internet Retailer calculates that e-commerce accounted for 7.6% of total retail sales last year, up from 7.0% in 2009. Total retail sales, which includes e-commerce sales, increased 7.0% in 2010 to $3.92 trillion.

E-commerce's strong fourth quarter helped drive this growth. Q4 2010 seasonally adjusted e-retail sales totaled $44.12 billion, up 16.1% from $38.00 billion a year earlier. In contrast, total retail sales were up 8.1% from Q4 2009. E-commerce represented 4.3% of retail spending during Q4 2010, up from 4.0% a year ago.

Without the seasonal adjustment, Q4 e-retail sales totaled $52.57 billion, up 16.3% from $45.20 billion a year ago, the Commerce Department says. E-commerce represented 4.9% of total non-adjusted retail sales during the quarter. When excluding sales in categories not commonly bought online, Internet Retailer calculates that e-commerce accounted for 8.5% of retail sales during the quarter, up from 7.8% in 2009.

The full-year and quarterly estimates from the Commerce Department are higher than those released by comScore, which reported total e-commerce sales grew 9.8% during 2010 and 11% during the fourth quarter. ComScore draws on online purchase data from its panel of about 1 million U.S. online shoppers. Commerce Department estimates are based on a quarterly survey of more than 11,000 U.S. merchants.

2011 also is off to a positive start. Online sales in January rose 12% year over year, marking the third consecutive month of double-digit growth, according to an estimate by MasterCard Advisors, the consulting arm of MasterCard.

allison@verticalwebmedia.com

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