Study: E-Commerce Sales Rise in August, Top $4 Billion

Online consumer spending rose in August to top the US$4 billion level, according to a report released Tuesday by Forrester Research (Nasdaq: FORR) and Greenfield Online.

Sales totaled $4.04 billion, compared with $3.98 billion in July, according to the Forrester Online Retail Index. However, even the modest increase represents a marked improvement over June, when spending fell for the second straight month to $3.2 billion.

“Given the continuing bad news about the economy, the Web was able to sustain itself quite well,” Forrester analyst Christopher Kelley told the E-Commerce Times.

Forrester found that the number of U.S. households shopping on the Web inched up in August to 14.8 million, from 14.7 million in July. The average spent by each consumer saw a $2 increase, to $272. The per-customer spending level had sunk to $247 in June.

Kelley said tax rebate checks may have had a lingering impact in August.

“It looks like some people took that extra money to their computers,” he said.

Books and Supplies

Back-to-school shopping also appeared to be a significant factor in helping e-commerce post some growth for the period. Categories that saw the largest increases included books, which rose to $202 million from $151 million in July. and office supplies, which increased to $108 million from $82 million.

“We were wondering if back-to-school would be a factor, and looking at the categories that saw an increase, it appears that it did,” Kelley said.

Apparel and footwear also saw modest increases, while the health and beauty, sporting goods and small appliances categories saw spending decline.

Big Tickets Slow

For so-called big-ticket items, computer hardware rose in August to $353 million from $335 million. Hotel reservations and furniture saw modest increases, while appliances, consumer electronics and airline ticket sales fell for the month.

While complete data for September will not be available until mid-October, early signs are that sales will not drop as far as some had feared in the wake of the September 11th terrorist attacks in New York, Pennsylvania and Washington, D.C., according to Forrester.

Staying Course

In fact, Kelley said Forrester is standing by its estimate that holiday sales will total $11 billion.

“There are so many variables, but we’re sticking by that figure,” Kelley said. “There was a huge drop in online sales for a couple of days after the attacks, but then it went right back up to near normal levels.”

While travel sales will almost certainly fall, people planning holiday trips might use that unspent airfare money to buy gifts to send to distant relatives and friends, Kelley theorized.

Home Alone

Additionally, the Web may become an attractive option for finding bargains and for consumers nervous about spending time in large crowds. Kelley noted that rumored threats of a terrorist attack on Boston, Massachusetts left the downtown shopping area nearly empty on a recent weekend.

“People didn’t want to be around big crowds,” Kelley said. “If that continues, it will be good news for Web shopping in general.”

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