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Dept. of Commerce Offers E-Commerce Stats

The U.S. Department of Commerce this week took steps to validate the breadth of the e-commerce industry by separating it from other parts of the retail industry.

The Internet has allowed the growth of online buying and selling to accelerate at alarming speeds recently, though until now it was lumped in with off-line activities. Private sector firms have been tracking e-commerce since its inception, but this marks the first time the government is specifically tracking the e-economy.

As its first step, Commerce this week unveiled an estimate of U.S. retail e-commerce sales during the fourth quarter of 1999. Online sales accounted for $5.3 billion of the overall $821.2 billion spent from October through December, or 0.64 percent, the study found. New metrics for the first quarter 2000 are expected in May.

"Government measures have not changed very much for a reason: the way America does business and the way Americans shop do not change very often," Commerce Secretary William Daley said in a statement.

"The fact is, the old pigeon holes we use for retail sales don't work for cybershopping. As the first Commerce secretary of the Internet century, I am delighted our first improvement in government numbers this century is to keep tabs on Internet retail sales."

In addition to quarterly retail reports, the Commerce Dept. said it will collect e-commerce data in annual surveys of manufacturing; wholesale trade; retail trade; food services and accommodations; and information, transportation, business, professional and personal services.