Online retail sales increased 14% in the fourth quarter of 2011 and 13% for the full year, comScore Inc. reported today.
In the all-important fourth quarter that includes the holiday season, e-retailers sold $49.7 billion worth of goods to U.S. consumers. E-commerce sales hit a record $161.5 billion for all of 2011.
“The fourth quarter of 2011 capped off what was yet another strong year for online retail, one in which every quarter achieved double-digit increases versus the prior year,” says comScore chairman Gian Fulgoni. “In the face of continuing uncertainty regarding the U.S. economy, consumers increasingly went online for their shopping needs. Price and convenience continue to be the critical value drivers for e-commerce, and unless those conditions change we can expect to see more channel-shifting to online in 2012 and perhaps even an acceleration in the current growth trend.”
It was the ninth consecutive quarter of year-over-year growth for e-commerce, as the recession fades into the past, and the fifth consecutive quarter of double-digit growth.
Free shipping played an increasingly important role in Q4, with 52% of sales in the quarter carrying no shipping charges. That was up from 49% in the fourth quarter of 2010, which had been the previous high-water mark for free shipping.
The top-performing categories, which each grew by at least 18% in the fourth quarter over the year-earlier period, were digital content and subscriptions, jewelry and watches, consumer electronics, toys and hobbies, and computer software.
There were 10 days during the fourth quarter in which e-retail sales exceeded $1 billion, comScore notes.
ComScore derives its estimates from tracking the online behavior of an opt-in panel of some 1 million U.S. consumers. The U.S. Commerce Department, which estimates e-commerce sales based on a survey of retailers, will report its fourth quarter and full-year 2011 estimate Feb. 16.