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For E-commerce, a Return to Normalcy

E-commerce sales have largely returned to normal following the events of Sept. 11, says a new report, with the one exception being (no surprise here) the travel sector.

Reston, Va.-based comScore Networks said its data for domestic e-commerce transactions for the five weeks from Sept. 11, through Oct. 21 shows online sales of hard goods have returned to levels seen prior to the attacks on the United States, but online dollar sales of travel services remain 17 percent below pre-attack levels.

The hard goods spending data would appear to jibe well with other recent predictions that a record $9.9 billion will be spent during the upcoming holiday season, an increase over last year's $6.9 billion.

During the week ending Oct. 21, total domestic e-commerce sales totaled an estimated $929 million, or 7 percent below the average week observed during a benchmark period calculated over the five months preceding Sept. 11, comScore said. The decline is entirely attributable to the continued softness in travel service purchases, the measurement firm said.

During the first four weeks following the attacks, comScore said its data also showed a sharp contrast in consumer purchasing in "essential" versus "discretionary" product categories.

Essential product categories such as Apparel and Health & Beauty suffered a drop of 27 percent during the week of the attacks, but their sales quickly rebounded to levels even higher than those seen before Sept. 11. By contrast, while sales of discretionary categories such as Consumer Electronics, Books and Event Tickets declined 24 percent during the week of the attacks, these categories have returned to normal sales levels only in the most recent week.

"The tragedies have taken a toll on Americans which is evident in their spending patterns, but in ways that differ by product category," said Dan Hess, comScore Networks vice president of marketing communications. "Not surprisingly, Travel has fared the worst, with sales continuing well below historical levels as consumers wrestle with concerns about safety and airport delays."

"Looking at Hard Goods, for a full month following the attacks it appears that many consumers adopted a 'wait and see' approach -- or even lost their desire to make discretionary purchases, preferring to concentrate their spending on more essential items," he said. "This pattern would appear to be a typical one during periods of emotional stress and economic uncertainty."

comScore, which is privately held, says its statistics are based on the online activity of a representative cross section of over 1.5 million anonymous Internet users, who have given permission for their browsing and buying behavior to be monitored.