The pace of online sales growth slowed somewhat in the fourth quarter, but the digital revolution is still alive and well in fashion.
Fourth-quarter e-commerce sales in the U.S. increased 14.6 percent to $79.57 billion versus a year earlier, according to a Commerce Department report Tuesday. That’s the slowest growth online since the end of 2012 and comes after two consecutive quarters of 15.8 percent expansion.
E-commerce accounts for 6.7 percent of retail trade sales, which excludes restaurants.
Strip away sales of food and beverages as well as sales at gas stations and auto dealerships, and e-commerce inches up to 8.7 percent of the total, according to IHS Global Insight U.S. Economist Chris Christopher.
And that’s a share that is set to grow bigger.
“People are becoming more used to buying online,” Christopher said. “The number one predictor if someone’s going to buy something online is, ‘Have you done it in the past?’ Once you start doing it, you do it more.
“It’s the younger generations that buy online and as they become older and have even more money, they’ll buy more online,” he said.
And apparel plays well digitally. Christopher noted that apparel and accessories accounted for 17 percent of online sales in 2012, the most-recent figures available.
Fashion retailers for years have seen large double-digit sales increases in their online businesses, but the actual turnover is only sporadically reported, making it hard to determine how significant these businesses are to individual companies. Those who are willing to open their books, show a heavy reliance on digital sales — and swift growth.
For the nine months ended Nov. 1, sales at nordstrom.com, nordstromrack.com and HauteLook weighed in at $1.54 billion, or 16.8 percent of Nordstrom Inc.’s total revenues. Those online businesses accounted for 49 percent of the company’s sales growth during the period.
Abercrombie & Fitch Co. drew 20.2 percent of its sales for the nine months from the Web. E-commerce grew by $69.9 million to $531.4 million versus a year earlier, while the total business saw sales fall 6.9 percent.
And Neiman Marcus Group, for its fiscal year ended Aug. 2, recorded that 23.7 percent of its sales, or $1.15 billion, came from the Web. E-commerce made up 61 percent of the company’s sales growth over the 12 months.
Slower growth in the broader e-commerce world or not, those numbers are hard for fashion retailers to ignore.