Online Sales Surge In Q4

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E-tailers enjoyed a bountiful holiday selling season, analysts reported, thanks to a winning combination of free shipping, improved service, and affiliate and search-engine marketing.

According to BizRate.com, the shopping search engine and e-commerce research firm, online sales soared 22 percent to $18.4 billion during the fourth quarter of 2003, representing fully one-third of all e-tail sales last year.

The tally also reflects a 64 percent increase in online orders to 180 million, up from 110 million last year, which compensated for a 26 percent decrease in average purchase price to $102.

E-tailers also received a year-end boost from post-Christmas clearance sales, ringing up $879.8 million during the six-day period from Dec. 26-31 alone.

Computer hardware, consumer electronics and entertainment were the top three best-selling online categories respectively, BizRate said, with computer hardware coming in seventh, albeit with a growth rate of 37 percent over the year-ago quarter. CE surged 20 percent, followed by entertainment at 16 percent and computer hardware at 11 percent.

Together, the categories accounted for nearly $5.2 billion in sales, or about 28 percent of total online revenue.

"Online retailing is clearly seeing strong momentum based on this successful holiday season," said Scott Silverman, executive director of Shop.org, the online arm of the National Retail Federation and co-author with BizRate of the 2003 eHoliday Mood Study.

"Online retailers are becoming more sophisticated in their marketing and merchandising efforts as they continue to be integrated into their companies' overall operations. This benefits both retailers and their customers," he continued.

The Mood Study, which polled over 5,000 shoppers and 80 etailers, showed that over two-thirds of consumers were "very satisfied" with their online buying experiences last quarter, while 59 percent of merchants sited free shipping offers as the most successful sales driver during the holiday period.

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