Report: Online Shopping Surges to $4.7B in September

Americans spent US$4.7 billion online in September, less than they did in August, but well ahead of last year’s pace, according to a report released Tuesday by Nielsen//NetRatings (Nasdaq: NTRT) and Harris Interactive (Nasdaq: HPOL).

Sales were up from the $3.1 billion recorded in September 2000, but down from the $5.5 billion consumers laid out on the Web in August 2001, the report said.

Nearly 39 million Americans purchased something online in September, an all-time high that outpaced even the December holiday rush last year. By comparison, just over 30 million Americans shopped online in September 2000.

“An unprecedented number of people embraced e-commerce last month,” said Sean Kaldor, vice president of analytics at Nielsen//NetRatings.

Going Strong

The report is one of the first to give a comprehensive view of the e-commerce landscape since the September 11th terrorist attacks on New York City and Washington, D.C.

It also comes as the e-tail community gears up for the important holiday shopping season, which will kick off in earnest in November.

“Despite recent national events, the number of online buyers actually grew 4 percent from August,” said Kaldor.

Spending Sags

However, while the ranks of online shoppers grew, the amount being spent has not kept pace.

The report found that online spending peaked at $7 billion in December 2000 and broke the $5 billion mark three times this year: in May, June and August.

One reason for the dropoff was the performance of the travel category. While remaining the largest single category with $1.1 billion in spending, travel buying in September was down 23 percent from August.

Travel Grounded

“Travel accounts for nearly a quarter of all online spending, so a downturn in this critical category dampens the entire e-commerce sector,” said Kaldor.

In the weeks after the September 11th attacks, Travelocity (Nasdaq: TVLY) slashed its workforce and UK-based eBookers also cut staff.

However, (Nasdaq: PCLN) has since said that the attacks hurt less than originally expected, and earlier data has shown consumers returning to travel sites. Priceline is on schedule to release its third quarter 2001 financial results after the stock markets close November 1st.

According to the report by Nielsen//NetRatings and Harris Interactive, travel managed to post 44 percent year-to-year growth when compared to September 2000.

Growth Spurts

Meanwhile, other leading e-tail categories saw significant spending, the report said.

After travel, clothing and apparel came in as the second-largest category in terms of total dollars, with $494 million spent, up 79 percent over a year ago.

Auctions ranked third, with $407 million in sales, a 135 percent jump over last year.

Books saw the largest gain for the month of September with 148 percent growth to $300 million, the highest level for the category in any non-holiday season.

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