In releasing its retail e-commerce sales estimates for the fourth quarter, comScore, Inc. said that online retail spending declined 3% versus year ago, the first recorded quarter of negative growth since comScore began tracking e-commerce spending in 2001.  Nonetheless, for the full year 2008, retail e-commerce grew 6% to $130.1 billion, but that represented a substantially lower growth rate than in previous years. 

“The fourth quarter rounded out what was a particularly challenging year for online retailers,” said comScore chairman Gian Fulgoni in a release. “The financial market meltdown that began in the fall dramatically reduced consumers’ discretionary spending power, resulting in the first quarter of negative growth that we’ve observed. 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.”


The fastest-growing retail category in 2008 was video games, consoles & accessories (up 29% vs. 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 & furniture (up 25%) and sport & fitness (up 25%), both of which benefited from an increasing consumer willingness to complete major consumer purchases, such as furniture and home exercise equipment, online. Two of the largest online retail categories, consumer electronics (up 9%)  and apparel & accessories (up 4%) both managed to grow positively in 2008, while several other categories were not as fortunate.