US retail e-commerce spending reached a new peak of $161.5 billion in 2011, representing a 13% increase from $142.5 billion in 2010, according to February 2012 figures from comScore. Online retail spending reached $49.7 billion in Q4, marking a 14% increase from $43.4 billion in Q4 2010, and a 27% rise from $39 billion in Q4 2009. In fact, Q4’s growth rate was the 9th consecutive quarter of year-over-year growth and the 5th consecutive quarter of double-digit growth rates.
Top Categories Show Significant Growth
The top-performing online product categories in Q4 2011 all grew at least 18% compared to a year earlier. These were: digital content & subscriptions; jewelry & watches; consumer electronics; toys & hobbies; and computer software.
Data released by comScore’s in December 2011 indicated thatChristmas Day saw a dramatic increase in purchases of digital content and subscriptions, a retail category that includes digital downloads of music, TV, movies, e-books, and applications. Whereas on an average day during the 2011 holiday season-to-date, digital content and subscriptions accounted for 2.8% of retail e-commerce sales, on Christmas Day the category accounted for more than 20% of sales.
Half of Transactions Came With Free Shipping
Meanwhile, 52% of all e-commerce transactions in Q4 2011 included free shipping, representing an all-time high, up 6% from the previous high of 49% in Q4 2010.
Retailers clearly were out to meet consumers’ needs: according to other comScore data from December 2011, 36% of internet users said that free shipping was very important to them and that they would not make a purchase without it. A further 42% of the respondents said that free shipping was somewhat important and that they were active seekers of free shipping deals. In fact, results from an October 2011 e-tailing group survey indicate that free shipping is the most important website feature for consumers, with 73% of respondents rating unconditional free shipping as a top 2 very important or critical feature when making a purchase from a website, ahead of free returns (70%), and sales and specials sections (62%).