By  on March 9, 2010

Apparel appears poised to establish a commanding e-commerce lead.

Online sales of apparel, accessories and footwear are expected to continue to grow at double-digit levels for the next five years, allowing them to pull well ahead of computer hardware, software and peripherals, according to a forecast released Monday by Forrester Research Inc. The two broad categories led all others in U.S. online retail sales with $27.3 billion last year as apparel gained 17 percent and computer-related merchandise picked up 7 percent, a rate expected to drop further in the next half-decade.

So, while apparel and related products are expected to hit $44.6 billion in online sales by 2014, revenues of computer products by that time are projected at $36.3 billion, a low-single-digit growth rate.

Forrester, based in Cambridge, Mass., projected that overall online retail sales in the U.S. would maintain a 10 percent compound annual growth rate over the next five years, leaping to $248.7 billion from $155.2 billion after 11 percent growth last year. Auto, travel and prescription drug transactions aren’t included in the tabulations.

Online sales accounted for 6 percent of total retail sales in the U.S. last year, a figure expected to rise to 7 percent this year and 8 percent beginning in 2013, according to Forrester. The e-commerce portion of apparel sales, 9 percent last year, is seen hitting 10 percent this year, 11 percent in 2011 and making its way to 12 percent in 2013. By contrast, online sales accounted for 52 percent of computer-related purchasing last year and are expected to hit 55 percent by 2011, offering less room for increased penetration.

Forrester also tracked the influence of the Internet on sales through other distribution channels and found that, apart from goods bought online, the Web influenced $917 billion in retail sales last year, meaning 42 percent of purchases were either made on the Web or influenced by it. By 2014, the percentage is anticipated to reach 53 percent as the $248.7 billion in expected online sales are joined by $1.41 billion in Web-influenced transactions.

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