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Web holiday sales: Is the party over?

A new study released by the U.S. Census Bureau shows that online holiday sales grew only modestly compared with 2000.

Online holiday sales grew only modestly compared with 2000, according to a report released Wednesday by the U.S. Census Bureau, a division of the Department of Commerce.

Online retailers in the United States rang up an estimated $10.04 billion in sales during the last quarter of 2001, rising 13.1 percent over the same quarter of 2000. In comparison, e-tail sales in the fourth quarter of 2000 added up to $8.88 billion, a 68.6 percent increase over the same quarter in 1999.

The estimates exclude online sales in the travel and financial services sectors and are not adjusted for seasonal differences.

A study released last month by Goldman Sachs, Harris Interactive and Nielsen/NetRatings also indicates modest growth in 2001 online holiday spending compared with previous years.

Online sales increased slightly as a percentage of overall retail sales last year, according to the Census Bureau report. At an estimated $32.6 billion, e-tail sales accounted for 1 percent of total 2001 retail sales, compared with 0.9 percent, or about $27 billion, in 2000.

Total retail sales for 2001 grew an estimated 3.3 percent, while total online retail sales climbed 19.3 percent.

The Commerce Department began reporting e-tail sales in the fourth quarter of 1999, and has issued reports quarterly since then. The figures are gathered from the Census Bureau's monthly retail trade survey of 11,000 retailers, both online and off the Web.

The department plans to revise the fourth-quarter e-commerce numbers in May, as a result of late responses and revised data from businesses. In March, the bureau plans to release annual statistics on 2000 e-commerce activity in manufacturing, retail, wholesale and service industries.