E-commerce down 2% in Q3: Outlook for holiday season sunnier

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US online retail spending totaled $29.6 billion in Q3 2009, according to a e-commerce sales estimate released on November 5 by ComScore. The period, down 2% versus a year ago, was the second in online shopping history in which sales figures had a downward trend in consecutive quarters. However, the projections for the holiday season are healthier.

“Despite the negative trend we're anticipating slightly positive growth in Q4,” explained Comscore media relations executive Andrew Lipsman. He went on to elaborate that Q4 2008 took the biggest hit from the recession, so comparatively Q4 2009 would be much rosier.

Lipsman also pointed to the government's “Cash for Clunkers” program as a reason spending was down in Q3 2009. “If people are spending large sums of their decretionary income offline on cars, there is less left for discretionary spending online.”

But the largest reason behind the dip in sales is consumer shopping slowdown. “Consumer attitudes are shifting, the behavior itself isn't there yet,” said Lipsman.

That being said, ther are some clear shopping trends that online retailers can expect to plan for this holiday shopping season, according to Lipsman.

“We're expecting to see fewer promotions this year because retailers have pulled back on their inventory – but our advice is be careful on pulling back on your free shipping promotions,” he said.

Forty-two percent of Q4 online transactions have had free-shipping offers, a trend that has steadily increased over the last two years. During the holiday season of 2008, 38% of shoppers chose a free-shipping option.

The hottest shopping days of the season may be December 7, 8, 14 and 15. “We typically see things really heat up around Cyber Monday (November 30) and continue to build over the next two to three weeks.”


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