November 17, 2011, 11:14 AM

E-commerce grows 13.7% in Q3

The U.S. Commerce Department says consumers spent $48.24 billion online in Q3.

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U.S. e-commerce sales reached $48.24 billion in the third quarter, up 13.7% from $42.42 billion for the same period a year ago, according figures released today by the U.S. Department of Commerce. Third quarter 2011 e-commerce sales increased 1.9% from $47.35 billion in the second quarter, according to the department’s seasonally adjusted.

Still, e-commerce sales growth rates during the third quarter were lower than previous growth rates that exceeded 17% during the first and second quarters of 2011.

E-commerce accounted for approximately 4.6% of total retail sales excluding foodservice—mainly restaurant and bar sales—during the three months ended Sept. 30, up slightly from 4.4% in the third quarter of 2010 and 4.5% from the second quarter of 2011, the Commerce Department says. Total retail sales excluding foodservice during the third quarter totaled $1.05 trillion.  

When further excluding sales in categories not commonly bought online—automobiles, fuel and grocery—Internet Retailer calculates that e-commerce accounted for 8.5% of total retail sales during the third quarter, up from 7.9% a year ago.

On an unadjusted basis, the Commerce Department says e-retail sales, excluding foodservice, during the third quarter totaled $44.49 billion, up 13.4% from the same period a year ago. It says e-commerce accounted for approximately 4.2% of the quarter’s unadjusted total retail sales of $1.05 trillion. Following the same method outlined above, Internet Retailer calculates e-commerce accounted for 8.0% of unadjusted retail sales of items consumers often purchase online.

The growth rate in the quarterly estimate from the Commerce Department is slightly higher than the rate in an estimate released earlier this month by comScore Inc.. The web measurement firm reported total e-commerce sales increased 13.1% during the quarter.  ComScore draws on online purchase data from its panel of about 1 million U.S. online shoppers and excludes automobile and auction sales. Commerce Department estimates are based on a quarterly survey of more than 11,000 U.S. merchants.

Moving into the fourth quarter—the make-or-break period for many retailers—an advanced retail sales estimate issued by the Commerce Department this week pegged total retail sales excluding foodservice in October at $355.84 billion, up 7.3% from $331.59 billion in October 2010, and up 0.5% from September 2011 sales of $353.86 billion. The estimate indicates consumers are opening their wallets a little wider—and a little sooner—going into the holiday shopping season than last year. A survey finding by comScore Inc. in October found that 41% of consumers had already started their holiday shopping.

Additionally, IBM Coremetrics estimates online sales in November will increase 12% to 15% from the same month a year ago. Meanwhile, research firm eMarketer released a prediction today that online sales will increase 16.8% this holiday season while total retail sales will grow only 3%.

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