After three quarters in negative territory, a strong holiday season brought 2009 online retail sales up to the level of 2008, comScore says. Counting travel, consumer e-commerce spending was down 2%, the first year ever of negative growth.
Zak Stambor , Managing Editor
A strong holiday season kept online retail from finishing 2009 in negative territory, and offers hope for a better year for e-retailers in 2010, web measurement firm comScore Inc. said in a report released today.
E-retail sales trailed the prior year for most of 2009, but year-over-year gains of a few percentage points in November and December allowed e-retail to finish the year at $129.8 billion in sales, essentially unchanged from $130.1 billion in 2008. The holiday season comeback “does suggest that the tides of consumer sentiment are beginning to turn and that 2010 may be a healthier year for retail e-commerce,” noted comScore’s report, “The 2009 U.S. Digital Year in Review.”
Despite the fall-off from growth rates that were consistently in double digits before slipping to 6% in 2008, the web remains a relative bright spot for retailers, comScore says. “New buyers continue to enter the channel, and as average spending per buyer rebounds off its 2009 lows, the e-commerce channel should return to healthy growth rates,” the report says.
While e-retail held steady in 2009, online travel sales declined 5% to $79.8 billion. That resulted in total consumer e-commerce spending falling 2% to $209.6 billion in 2009, the first decline ever, comScore says.
The report notes that only a handful of online retail categories registered higher sales in 2009. Leading the way was books and magazines, which grew by 12%, followed by computer software (excluding PC games) 7%; sports and fitness 6%; jewelry and watches 4%; video games, consoles and accessories 3%; consumer electronics 3%; and computers, peripherals and PDAs 1%.
More consumers searched online in 2009, and they searched more often. The number of unique individuals who searched increased 6% and searches per individual searcher increased 10%, resulting in a 16% gain in total search queries. Microsoft improved to a 10.7% search market share from 8.3% on the strength of the launch last year of its new Bing search engine. But Google remained dominant, accounting for 65.7% of searches in December 2009, comScore says.
Other trends noted in the report were more consumers participating in online social networks, viewing online video and purchasing high-end mobile phones that can access the web.