According to a study by comScore Inc. (Reston, Va.), a digital marketing company, online retail spending dropped 3 percent for the fourth quarter, versus a year ago. It marks the first recorded quarter of negative growth since comScore began tracking e-commerce spending in 2001. For the full year 2008, retail e-commerce grew 6 percent to $130.1 billion, a lower growth rate than in previous years.
"The fourth quarter rounded out what was a particularly challenging year for online retailers," says comScore chairman Gian Fulgoni. "The financial market meltdown that began in the fall dramatically reduced consumers' discretionary spending power. As we enter 2009 with rising unemployment and continued economic uncertainty, the first few months of the year will be especially critical in foretelling what 2009 has in store for the online retail sector."
Throughout 2007, quarterly growth rates remained in the vicinity of 20 percent. Beginning in the first quarter of 2008, however, the growth rates began to de-accelerate, culminating in a 3 percent decline in the final quarter of 2008.
The fastest-growing retail category in 2008 was video games, consoles and accessories (up 29 percent from 2007), which continued to benefit from online sales of popular game consoles like the Nintendo Wii, Microsoft Xbox 360 and Sony PlayStation 3. Other fast-growing categories included home, garden and furniture (up 25 percent), sport and fitness (up 25 percent), consumer electronics (up 9 percent) and apparel and accessories (up 4 percent).
Those categories with declining sales included computer hardware, toys and hobbits, books and magazine, office supplies, jewelry and music, movies and videos.