March 1, 2012, 12:00 AM

E-retail growth accelerates in 2011

U.S. e-commerce sales rose 16.1% last year, to $194.3 billion, according to the U.S. Department of Commerce, as 4.6% of total retail spending was online.

Allison Enright


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U.S. e-commerce sales totaled $194.3 billion in 2011, up 16.1% from $167.3 billion in 2010, according to an estimate released last month by the U.S. Department of Commerce. 2011Õs growth rate outperformed the 14.8% growth posted by the industry during 2010.

The 2011 estimate, not adjusted for seasonal variations, shows that 4.6% of total retail spending took place online, up from 4.3% in 2010. When excluding sales in categories not commonly bought online—automobiles, fuel, grocery and foodservice sales—Internet Retailer calculates that e-commerce accounted for 8.6% of total retail sales during the year, up from 7.6% in 2010. Total retail sales, which includes e-commerce sales, increased 7.9% in 2011 and totaled $4.2 trillion, according to the Commerce Department.

E-commerce's strong fourth quarter helped drive this growth. E-retail sales in the fourth quarter totaled $61.8 billion, up 16.1% from $53.2 billion a year ago, according to the Commerce Department. E-commerce represented 5.5% of total non-adjusted retail sales during the quarter. Internet Retailer calculates that e-commerce accounted for 9.7% of Q4 non-adjusted total retail sales of products commonly bought online, up from 8.5% in 2010.

Web measurement firm comScore Inc. also released e-retail sales estimates for the quarter and year. It says online sales increased 13% during 2011 to reach $161.5 billion, and increased 14% during Q4 to reach $49.7 billion, a new record. Q4 was the ninth consecutive quarter of year-over-year growth for e-commerce, and the fifth consecutive quarter of double-digit growth.

"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. "Unless [economic] conditions change we can expect to see more channel-shifting to online in 2012 and perhaps even an acceleration in the current growth trend."

The Commerce Department and comScore collect data differently. 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.



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