November 16, 2012, 10:41 AM

E-commerce sales grow 17.3% in Q3

U.S. e-commerce sales reached $56.99 billion, says the U.S. Department of Commerce.

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U.S. e-commerce sales reached $56.99 billion in the third quarter, up 17.3% from $48.59 billion for the same period a year ago, according to figures released today by the U.S. Department of Commerce. Third quarter 2011 e-commerce sales increased 3.7% from $54.94 billion in the second quarter, according to the department’s seasonally adjusted estimates.

The 17.3% growth posted for the third quarter follows three quarters when e-retail sales growth hovered just above 15%. The last time e-commerce sales growth was greater than 17% was in the first quarter of 2011, when growth clocked in at 17.2%.

E-commerce accounted for approximately 5.2% of total retail sales excluding foodservice—mainly restaurant and bar sales—during the three months ended Sept. 30, up from 4.7% in the third quarter of 2011 and 5.1% from the second quarter of 2012, the Commerce Department says.Total retail sales excluding foodservice during the third quarter totaled $1.09 trillion.  

When further excluding sales of autos and fuel—products not commonly bought online—Internet Retailer calculates that e-commerce accounted for approximately 7.7% of total adjusted retail sales during the third quarter, up from 6.8% a year ago.

On an unadjusted basis, the Commerce Department says e-retail sales, excluding foodservice, during the third quarter totaled $52.51 billion, up 17.0% from the same period a year ago. It says e-commerce accounted for approximately 4.9% of the quarter’s unadjusted total retail sales of $1.08 trillion. Following the same method outlined above, Internet Retailer calculates e-commerce accounted for 7.2% of unadjusted retail sales of items consumers often purchase online.

The growth rate in the quarterly estimate from the Commerce Department is higher than the rate in an estimate released earlier this month by comScore Inc. The web measurement firm reported total e-commerce sales increased 15.4% 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 holiday shopping season, an advanced retail sales estimate issued by the Commerce Department this week pegged total retail sales excluding foodservice in October at $361.2 billion, up 5.6% from $342.0 billion in October 2011, and up 3.8% from September 2012 sales of $347.8 billion. Some of that money may have been spent on holiday gifts. Just over half of online shoppers say they started their holiday shopping in October, according to a survey from, the digital division of the National Retail Federation trade group. ComScore, meanwhile predicts that e-commerce sales will increase 15% to 18% this holiday shopping season compared with 2011.


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