February 7, 2013, 3:56 PM

E-retail spending jumps 15% in 2012

U.S. online shoppers spent more than $186 billion last year, comScore says.

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Online shoppers in the United States spent $186.2 billion in 2012, up 15% from 2011, comScore Inc. said today. The web measurement firm says that e-retail sales in the fourth quarter of 2012—which covers the holiday shopping period—increased 14% year over year to reach approximately $56.78 billion. 

“2012 was a year in which—for the most part—e-commerce continued to grow strongly, despite an uneven macroeconomic environment showing signs of recovery but also cause for continued concern,” says comScore chairman Gian Fulgoni. “With e-commerce growth rates consistently in the mid-teens throughout the year, it is clear that the online channel has won over the American consumer and will increasingly be relied upon to deliver on the dimensions of lower price, convenience and selection.”

By comparison, total retail sales, excluding sales of automotive vehicles and parts, increased 4.9%, according to U.S. Department of Commerce figures released in January.  Non-store retail sales increased 11.6%; those sales come from retailers that sell to consumers mainly via the web but also through catalogs and TV. On Feb. 15, the Commerce Department is scheduled to release its detailed e-retail spending estimates for the full year 2012 and its fourth quarter.

In 2011, e-commerce sales increased 16.1% over 2010, to $194.30 billion from $167.30 billion, while total retail sales (excluding sales related to fuel, autos and restaurants) rose 5.5% to $2.88 trillion from $2.73 trillion, according to figures in the Internet Retailer Top 500 Guide.

ComScore had initially predicted a higher growth rate for 2012 e-commerce holiday sales. In November, comScore predicted 15% to 18% year over year e-retail spending growth for the holiday shopping period. In January, comScore reported that e-commerce sales in November and December—the holiday shopping period as measured by the firm—increased 13.7% year over year, to $42.28 billion.

“The only real blemish on an otherwise outstanding year for e-commerce was a holiday season that fell shy of initial expectations, apparently due to consumers’ fiscal cliff concerns,” Fulgoni says. “To the extent that this pullback was just a temporary shock and not a sign of underlying economic weakness, we are optimistic that 2013 will build on the momentum of the past year.”

Looking toward the coming year, Shop.org—the e-commerce arm of the National Retail Federation trade group—has projected that web sales in 2013 will increase between 9% and 12% over 2012. The figures exclude sales related to automobiles, gas stations and restaurants. ComScore has not made an e-commerce spending projection for 2013.

ComScore draws on online purchase data from its panel of about 1 million U.S. online shoppers as well as other consumer data, and excludes automobile and auction sales. Commerce Department estimates are based on a quarterly survey of more than 11,000 U.S. merchants.

Besides the overall e-commerce spending figures, comScore also said that during the fourth quarter of 2012:

• Online sales in the following product categories increased at least 15% year over year: digital content and subscriptions, consumer electronics, toys and hobbies, apparel and accessories, and books and magazines.

• The 14% increase in spending came from a 6% increase in the number of buyers and an 8% increase in the spending per buyer.

• U.S. online spending reached 10% of total U.S. retail spending, excluding food, gas and automotive, the first time e-retail has reached double digits.

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