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The Future of Online Retailing

April 1st, 2013 ::

By Rieva Lesonsky

Spurred by the rapid adoption of mobile devices like tablets and smartphones, as well as by major retailers’ investment in their websites, ecommerce sales in the U.S. are projected to rise from $231 billion last year to $262 billion this year—an increase of 13 percent–according to the latest forecasts from market research firm Forrester. Three product categories account for one-third of that total: apparel and accessories, consumer electronics and computer hardware.

Ecommerce currently accounts for some 8 percent of overall U.S. retail sales (or 11 percent, if grocery sales are excluded). Growth in online retail sales is projected to outpace the growth of traditional retail sales in the next five years. By 2017, total ecommerce sales in the U.S. should hit $370 billion.

Forrester says the increased use of smartphones and tablets is a major factor powering ecommerce growth. With over 50 percent of U.S. online users owning smartphones, many smartphone owners use any spare moment to go online. As a result, people are spending more time overall online than they would if they had to go to their PC or laptop to shop—and that means more browsing, shopping and purchasing.

Another driver behind ecommerce growth is that major retailers are rapidly making investments in their ecommerce divisions in order to better integrate their in-store and online shopping experiences. Even customers who head to a brick-and-mortar store now often end up buying merchandise online within the store, or using smartphones to find the same products elsewhere and order them online.

Surprisingly, new shoppers coming online for the first time are not a major factor in the growth of ecommerce. Just 4 million people are projected to buy online for the first time this year. Instead, growth is coming because people who are already comfortable with online shopping are now spending more money online, ordering more often, and buying a wider range of products from a variety of sites. Forrester says online shoppers typically become comfortable with ecommerce by purchasing low-risk items such as downloadable music or movies. Only then do they move up to more expensive purchases such as appliances or home furnishings.

Forrester’s report has some more good news, not just for ecommerce vendors but also for the economy as a whole: Ecommerce companies are powering employment growth. Currently, Forrester says, U.S. ecommerce businesses employ over 400,000 people, and that figure is expected to hit 500,000 by 2017.

Image by Flickr user Mosman Council (Creative Commons)

The views expressed here are the author's alone and not those of Network Solutions or its partners.

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