February 12, 2010, 12:00 AM

E-commerce accounted for 7.7% of total retail spending in Q4

A new report from web measurement firm comScore Inc. finds that online purchases accounted for 7.7% of total retail spending in Q4, up from 6.9% in Q3 and relatively flat compared with 7.6% the same period in 2008.

A new report from web measurement firm comScore Inc. finds that online purchases accounted for 7.7% of total retail spending in Q4, up from 6.9% in Q3 and relatively flat compared with 7.6% the same period in 2008. The estimate excludes gas, food, and auto related purchases.

For all of 2009, e-commerce sales, including travel spending, totaled $210 billion, down 1.8% compared with $214 billion in 2008. The decrease is a change from the upward trend in e-commerce in recent years. From 2006 to 2007 e-commerce sales grew 17% to $200 billion and sales grew again in 2008 by 7%. Last year, travel accounted for $80 billion, or 38%, of the total $210 billion in e-commerce sales.

The end of 2009 showed a glimmer of recovery as e-commerce retail sales in Q4 grew 3% compared to a year ago, a change from Q3 when sales were down 2% from a year earlier, according to comScore. U.S. Department of Commerce retail spending estimates, which include food, motor vehicles and parts sales, report sales grew 2% in Q4 year-over-year, and fell 7% year-over-year in Q3.

By category, comScore reports significant variance in sales performance across e-commerce retail categories. In Q4, the best performing categories compared with a year earlier were jewelry and watches, consumer electronics, computer software, event tickets and book and magazines. Toys and hobbies fell the most during the quarter while home and garden, furniture appliances and equipment, video game consoles and accessories, apparel and accessories, and flowers and gifts fell moderately.

The 2009 online holiday shopping season started earlier and lasted longer than 2008, comScore says. The best performing online sales days in the season were Thanksgiving, with sales up 10% from last year, the day after Thanksgiving, with sales up 11%, Dec. 15, with sales up 21% and the final weekend before Christmas, when sales increased 13% year-over-year.

Sales grew 4% growth during the holiday shopping season to $29 billion. This was mainly a result of a 10% increase in the number of online buyers, says comScore. Buyers spent 5% less and average order value fell 7%.

"E-commerce gained share of consumers` wallets in most product categories during the holiday shopping season, but apparel and clothing fared better offline," comScore says. Additionally, comScore says the number of retail promotions in December 2009 was significantly higher than past years but discount levels were modest relative to a year ago.

Larger retailers saw their market share increase at the expense of smaller retailers during the holiday season. Sales for top 25 online retailers, based on comScore’s data, increased 11% while sales for other retailers` decreased 7%. Approximately 40% of the largest 25 retailers showed growth rates above 10%, comScore says. Online holiday sales for giants Amazon.com Inc. and Wal-Mart Stores Inc. combined accounted for 13% of all retail web sales for the season.

Additionally in-store pick up became increasingly important in the final hectic days before Christmas. In the week ending Dec. 27, 48% of all sales at four large e-retailers were sales ordered online for in-store pick up. Once again free shipping proved key during the holidays, according to comScore. 75% of consumers said they would shift to another retailer at checkout if shipping was not free. Social media, especially product reviews, emerged as an influence on consumer buying during the season, comScore says.

E-commerce spending to grow in 2010, says comScore, but says absolute growth will be hampered by continued high unemployment, consumers paying off debts and consumer desire to save.

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