August 17, 2009, 12:00 AM

Cautious consumer spending dampens online sales

Online retail sales in the second quarter were down 4.5% to $30.8 billion from Q2 last year, the Department of Commerce reports. By comparison, total retail sales fell 10.6%, driven by falling gas prices and plummeting car sales.

Cautious consumer spending had an impact on online sales in the second quarter, the U.S. Department of Commerce reported today.

Online retail sales in the second quarter were down 4.5% from Q2 last year, the Department of Commerce reports. Sales in Q2 2009 were $30.8 billion compared to $32.2 billion a year ago, on a basis that does not adjust for trading days or price changes. On an adjusted basis, sales declined 4.4% to $32.4 billion from $33.9 billion a year earlier.

By comparison, Internet audience measurement company comScore Inc. reported last week that Q2 online sales were down 1% from the year-earlier quarter.

The Commerce Department reports that total retail sales fell 10.6% on a not-adjusted basis and 10.7% on an adjusted basis. However, almost all of that decline was the result of falling gasoline prices and the pullback in auto sales. Factoring out those two areas, retail sales fell 1.7% in Q2 vs. a year ago. The Commerce Department reports a plus or minus factor of 2.1% in its online sales estimate.

The difference in numbers between comScore and the Commerce Department is partly the result of methodology and partly a matter of what each organization counts. ComScore extrapolates its data from the behavior of a panel of online consumers who have granted comScore permission to monitor their online activity. The Commerce Department bases its numbers on a survey of retailers, then projects those numbers to the market.

Neither organization reports sales at eBay.com, although the Commerce Department includes the fees that eBay generates in its retail sales.

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