E-commerce now 10% of total retail sales

Online sales returned to pre-recession growth levels in 2012, advancing 15% to a record $186.2 billion, according to a year end recap by online measurement firm comScore.

The record setting year marked the first time that e-commerce sales as a percentage of total retail sales reached double digits (10%) and was capped by a fourth quarter in which e-commerce sales reached unprecedented levels. Online sale increased 14% to $56.8 billion in the fourth quarter, the first time quarterly sales have surpassed $50 billion, according to comScore. The growth was driven by a combination of traffic and transaction size with a 6% increase in the number on online buyers and an 8% increase in spending per buyer.

The firm added that the fourth quarter was the thirteenth consecutive quarter of positive year-over-year growth and ninth consecutive quarter of double-digit growth. Online retail, like all of retail, went through a difficult period from the fourth quarter of 2008 through the first three quarter of 2009 when sales either declined or were flat.

"2012 was a year in which, for the most part, e-commerce continued to grow strongly, despite an uneven macroeconomic environment showing signs of recovery but also cause for continued concern," said comScore chairman Gian Fulgoni. "With e-commerce growth rates consistently in the mid-teens throughout the year, it is clear that the online channel has won over the American consumer and will increasingly be relied upon to deliver on the dimensions of lower price, convenience and selection. The only real blemish on an otherwise outstanding year for e-commerce was a holiday season that fell shy of initial expectations, apparently due to consumers’ fiscal cliff concerns. To the extent that this pullback was just a temporary shock and not a sign of underlying economic weakness, we are optimistic that 2013 will build on the momentum of the past year."

The top-performing online product categories were during the past year were digital content and subscriptions, consumer electronics, toys and hobbies, apparel and accessories and books and magazines, according to comScore. Each grew by at least 15%.

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