Online commerce rang up $43 billion in fourth quarter

Anyone who thinks e-commerce isn’t a major force in the economy just isn’t thinking clearly, at least according to market analysis firm comScore. According to the company’s sales estimates for the fourth quarter of 2010—which includes the all-important end-of-year holidays—online purchases totaled up to some $43 billion in the United States alone. The number represents an 11 percent increase compared to the fourth quarter of 2009.

“Holiday season spending was bolstered by an improving sentiment among some consumer segments and by retailers’ discounting and promotions,” said comScore chairman Gian Fulgoni, in a statement. “The 2010 holiday season saw the first billion-dollar day on record and several more surpassing $900 million to help propel Q4 to record spending levels.”

That billion-dollar day was November 29, “Cyber Monday,” according to comScore.

Perhaps the most interested statistic to come out of comScore’s analysis is that some 84 percent of U.S. Internet users conducted an online transaction during the fourth quarter of 2010, compared to 78 percent in the fourth quarter of 2009. Although the average amount spent online per consumer remained about the same year to year, the record number of online buyers propelled the sector towards a banner quarter.

As one might expect, computer software and consumer electronics were top-performing product categories for e-commerce during the quarter, but books and magazines (not including digital downloads!) also did well, along with computer peripherals, and holiday-appropriate toys, games, and hobby items. Each of these segments saw year-on-year growth rates over 15 percent.

ComScore anticipates the online retail sector will be able to sustain double-digit growth rates throughout 2011.

The largest year-on-year contraction in the online retail market comScore has recorded was in the fourth quarter of 2008, which saw a three percent decline in online purchases compared to the previous year. The biggest jump since comScore started keeping track in 2006 cam in the second and third quarters of 2007, which were each up 23 percent compared to the previous year.

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