March 28, 2002, 12:00 AM

Commerce Department numbers say e-retailing grew 19% last year

Online retail grew 2.5 times as fast as all retailing lat year, the Commerce Department, reports. Commerce’s numbers are the benchmark against which other researchers measure their numbers.

The definitive numbers are finally out-and they show growth of online retailing at 2.5 times the rate of growth in retailing in general.

Some researchers may come out with their market numbers faster, but the Commerce Department’s quarterly survey of e-retail spending is the definitive measure. So much so, in fact, that some researchers couch their numbers in terms of how close they are to the Commerce Department numbers.

The Commerce Department reports that online sales grew 13% in the fourth quarter to $10.04 billion from $8.88 billion in the fourth quarter of 2000. E-retail sales accounted for 1.2% of total retail in Q4 vs. 1.1% in Q4 2000. Total retail sales in Q4 were $860.8 billion, up 5.3% from a year earlier.

For the full year, e-retail sales reached $32.6 billion, up 19.3% from 2000’s $27.28 billion. Total retail sales in 2001 were up 3.3% from 2000. E-retail now accounts for 1% of retail sales, up from 0.9% a year earlier.

Many researchers and analysts put great stock in the Commerce Department sales figures because they are based on a survey of 11,000 retailers and they measure only what is traditionally considered retail. Other measures of the market are based on tracking a cross section of users and extrapolating to the rest of the market or by surveys of consumers who recall recent shopping experiences. And some of them include travel spending, event ticket sales and person-to-person auctions.

The Commerce Department numbers turned out this year to be the lowest of all the estimates. ComScore Networks Inc., which tracks web users, says online retail sales reached $10.8 billion in Q4. Forrester Research Inc., which bases its numbers on an online survey of users in the first nine business days of each month, said e-retailing reached $11.1 billion., which sees all transactions happening at the 2,000 retail sites where it has contracts to monitor customer satisfaction then adds publicly known figures for the sites it doesn’t monitor, reported $12.43 billion.

Forrester in February halted its monthly reporting of sales figures. Forrester’s numbers had shown 2001 online shopping at lower levels than 2000 since June, while other researchers were reporting continued growth. Forrester then restated its numbers for 2000, saying it had overestimated usage in 2000. A spokeswoman says the market has matured enough that Forrester no longer sees the need for monthly reports. Instead, it will report numbers quarterly.


The growth of e-retailing
(dollar amounts in billions) Total
E-retail As %
of retail
Q4 2001 $860.83 $10.04 1.20% 13.10%
Q3 786.36 7.47 1 8.3
Q2 807.41 7.46 0.9 24.7
Q1 728.66 7.59 1 37.4
Q4 2000 817.7 8.88 1.1 68.6
Q3 772.79 6.89 0.9 (NA)
Q2 777.82 5.98 0.8 (NA)
Q1 714.4 5.5 0.8 (NA)
Q4 1999 785.87 5.26 0.7 (NA)
Source: U.S. Department of Commerce


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