The online shopping experience has changed dramatically over the past ten years. I know. In 1999, as a radio reporter in Silicon Valley, I was given an assignment: Conduct your Christmas shopping online, using a pre-determined list of items. A fellow reporter was given the same list, understanding that all of his purchases would be made at brick and mortar retail outlets. It was a race. He easily won.
There were a number of factors that limited my ability to shop online effectively: I was slowed by a dial-up connection, the number of retailers which offered online sales was limited, and the checkout process was inefficient and time-consuming. Consumers, at that time, were also less-knowledgeable about how to find what they were looking for. Google, for example, was not a household word and Amazon was a new and unproven business known primarily for online book sales.
In 1999, fourth quarter ecommerce sales accounted for 0.64 percent of the total retail sales in the United States. In the fourth quarter of 2008, ecommerce sales accounted for 3.4 percent of total sales. According to the latest statistics released by the Census Bureau of the Department of Commerce, ecommerce sales in the third quarter of this year accounted for 3.7 percent of total sales.
Forrester Research predicts ecommerce sales for the 2009 holiday season will reach $44.7 billion.
A further breakdown of ecommerce sales in billons of dollars is seen in our Chart of the Week.