U.S.: E-Commerce Hit All-Time Q3 High

Compared with a year earlier, e-commerce retail sales in this year’s third quarter skyrocketed to their highest dollar value since reporting began in 1999, according to a U.S. Department of Commerce survey released Friday.

The survey by the Census Bureau of 11,000 stores showed that sales, not adjusted for seasonal, holiday and trading-day differences, rang up to the tune of US$11.06 billion. That figure represents a 34.3 percent increase from last year. In fact, the year-over-year increase is the largest since 2001’s first-quarter gain of 42 percent.

The 2002 third-quarter figures are a positive sign for retailers that seasonal shopping may fare well, and they also reflect a 7.8 percent increase from the second quarter of 2002.

All Retail Sales on Increase

Comparatively, total online and offline retail sales in the third quarter of 2002 were estimated at $827.5 billion, an increase of 5.8 percent from the same period a year ago.

Online retail sales in the third quarter of 2002 represented 1.3 percentof all retail sales, a .1 percent jump from the second quarter and a .2 percent jump from a year earlier.

However, the year-over-year third-quarter gains may be attributable to a rebound from the negative effects of the September 11th terrorist attacks and the faltering economy that followed, according to Giga Information Group vice president Andrew Bartels.

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The Department of Commerce noted an error margin of plus or minus .4 percent, adding that more than 2 million retail firms were surveyed. In order to qualify for an e-commerce classification, a retailer’s customers needed only to place orders online, not necessarily to pay for items over the Internet.

Online travel services, financial brokers and dealers, and ticket sales agencies are not considered by the Commerce Department to be retail services and were not included in the estimates.

Of the 11,000 retailers surveyed, not all were engaged in e-commerce.

Holiday Shopping Starts Early

The increase in e-shopping was also noted by Nielsen//Netratings, which reported that in the week ended November 3rd, shopping activity increased 12 percent, for a total of more than 109.7 million shopping trips.

The two top-performing categories were toys and games with 4 million shoppers, representing 34 percent growth over the previous week, and consumer electronics with 5 million shoppers, a 26 percent increase from the preceding week.

Books, music and video took third place with 6.9 million visitors, an increase of 25 percent over the previous week.

Retailers ‘Running Scared’?

The Nielsen//Netratings survey credited early fall sales and holiday advertising for spurring more online spending in the days following Halloween.

But although the numbers of shoppers may be up, Bartels noted that retailers are “running scared” this year, partly because a relatively late Thanksgiving has shortened the holiday shopping season by six days.

“The retailers themselves have been very aggressive at running sales earlier,” Bartels said. “They’re trying to be active in terms of avoiding excess inventory. There is the expectation that consumers are going to be very tight.”

Retail e-commerce sales estimates for the fourth quarter of 2002 are scheduled to be released in February 2003.

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