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E-tailers ring up a big year

Online retailers experienced significant growth during 2003 due to record holiday sales, a strong travel market and increased consumer confidence.

The online retail sector experienced significant growth during 2003 due to record holiday sales, a strong travel market and increased consumer confidence, according to a new report.

Revenue for online retailers in 2003 reached $93 billion, a 27 percent increase over the same period last year, research firm ComScore Networks reported on Monday.

The growth in sales was spurred by a record fourth quarter holiday buying season, typically the largest sales period for both online and brick-and-mortar vendors. ComScore said that online retail spending during the 2003 holiday season totaled $12.5 billion, a 29.5 percent gain over the same period last year.

The online travel segment continued to outperform the rest of the e-tail market, with ComScore counting $41 billion in sales for 2003, a 35 percent gain over travel revenue recorded in 2002.

The firm reported that for several weeks during June and July, the peak vacation season, travel spending exceeded all other e-commerce product categories combined.

ComScore analyst Graham Mudd said the fastest growing areas of the e-tail market beyond travel included sales of big-ticket items such as furniture, appliances and jewelry, indicating increased confidence among consumers.

The apparel and accessories market also showed signs of renewed growth after falling off for the last two years, further evidencing a shift among online shoppers.

"Despite some weakness earlier in the year related to the Iraq war, increased consumer experience and programs allowing buyers to interact with physical store locations for returns or service helped to drive sales," said Mudd. "Renewed performance of the apparel market after two years of flat numbers also indicates that buying patterns may be shifting again."

ComScore said that consistent performance over the last two months of the year were crucial to overall growth in the e-tail segment and estimated that consumers spent an average of $200 million per day online throughout November and December.

The firm's holiday numbers appeared conservative compared to other researchers' figures. The eSpending survey published last week by Goldman Sachs, Harris Interactive and Nielsen/NetRatings indicated that consumers spent $13 billion during the holidays, a 46 percent increase over its own 2002 figures.

The positive numbers stand in contrast to a Commerce Department report released in December that found a 3.1 percent month-over-month decrease in orders for durable goods for the month of November.