U.S. online retail sales disappoint

NEW YORK — Economic woes have dumped a lump of coal on U.S. online retailers, which, like their brick-and-mortar rivals, have struggled with an uneven holiday business following a strong official start to the season.

ComScore Inc., an Internet research company, reported Sunday that online sales from Nov. 1 through Dec. 14 rose 18 per cent from the same period a year ago to $22.67-billion, but that's less than the 26 per cent growth rate seen last year and the 20 per cent projection for the season. And while online merchants are stepping up promotions even more and offering free shipping upgrades to extend the season, it's clear that e-retailers are as vulnerable to the economic challenges as their rivals with physical stores.

The current economic realities are forcing customers to “pick their spots, and they are waiting for the deals,” said comScore Chairman Gian Fulgoni. “I think it is possible that they are procrastinating longer than a year ago.”

Mr. Fulgoni noted that the subprime mortgage meltdown, slumping housing values, higher gasoline prices and an uncertain stock market are affecting shoppers at different income levels. But he noted that consumers in lower-income segments appear to be the most hurt, as reflected by the sluggish growth in their rate of online spending.

ComScore's analysis of data shows that while households earning at least $100,000 have increased their online spending 28 per cent versus a year ago, households making less than $50,000 have increased their spending by just 10 per cent.


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