Q1 E-Commerce Sales Up 33.5 Percent Versus Year-Ago

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U.S. retail e-commerce sales in first-quarter 2001 were estimated at $6.99 billion, up 33.5 percent from year-ago sales of $5.24 billion, according to figures released yesterday by the Census Bureau of the Department of Commerce.

The estimate was not adjusted for seasonal, holiday and trading-day differences.

E-commerce sales nationwide this first quarter accounted for 0.9 percent of total retail sales, up from 0.7 percent in the first three months of 2000.

Total retail sales for first-quarter 2001 were estimated at $765.2 billion, an increase of only 2.3 percent from the same quarter last year.

"It does continue to show that [e-commerce] is growing at a faster clip, in general, than retail because of the novelty, because people are getting more comfortable with buying over the Internet and the service levels," said Jay Scansaroli, New York-based global managing partner for retail industry services at Andersen.

Online customers also are being treated better than they were in the past and some of the perceived problems of buying on the Internet have disappeared, Scansaroli said.

For its study, the Census Bureau engaged in a random sampling method that chose 12,000 retail firms whose sales were weighted and benchmarked to reflect more than 2 million retailers nationwide. Firms were asked to report monthly e-commerce sales separately.

The first-quarter 2001 e-commerce sales figure had a plus or minus 5.3 percent margin of error. Figures for the nation's total retail sales had a plus or minus 0.5 percent margin of error.

Scansaroli said that though e-commerce sales could have been higher if the economy were more robust, he was satisfied with the steady growth of online sales versus offline, albeit on a smaller base.

He said the tough times for retail will continue through the summer, until consumers start shopping in the fall for the holidays.

"[But] I do not see any bad numbers [for e-commerce]," Scansaroli said. "Bad news generally is in retail today, that it's been a very difficult first quarter. Most of that is attributed to the economic conditions that we're currently dealing with - prices of energy, concerns about inflation, things of that nature."

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