Byline: Valerie Seckler

NEW YORK — To no one’s surprise, U.S. consumers spent about $3 billion online in January — or only half as much as they did in December — according to fresh figures released Tuesday by Forrester Research and the National Retail Federation.
The NRF/Forrester Online Retail Index, fielded by Internet researcher Greenfield Online of Wilton, Conn., between Feb. 1-8, showed toys and video games were not the only categories that saw their online volume fall off precipitously in January from relatively robust holiday levels. Sales of apparel and jewelry, among others, suffered from the softening as well.
Purchases of apparel transacted online in January plummeted more than twofold, totaling $178 million, down from $501 million in December, when it produced the second-highest monthly volume after toys, which had sales of $598 million during that month. Earlier in the holiday period, during November, e-purchasers spent $525 million for apparel, and $673 million on toys and video games.
Nonetheless, James McQuivey, research director of Cambridge, Mass.-based Forrester, put on a brave face for the Web world Tuesday, in commenting on the results.
“The 50 percent decline in online consumer spending in January is exactly what we would expect of the post-holiday season — not a reflection of how consumers feel about shopping on the Internet,” McQuivey contended. “Being able to shop for deals anytime, in a bathrobe from the couch, will keep the online shopping industry alive and kicking as long as there is a World Wide Web.”
Consumers in around 13.3 million U.S. households shopped the e-way in January, with buyers spending an average of $228 for the month, the NRF/Forrester study found. During December, by comparison, cybershoppers shelled out approximately $6.1 billion online (off 5 percent from $6.4 billion in November) and forked over an average of $308 per purchaser in the period.
Not surprisingly, sales of toys and video games experienced the sharpest decline on the Web in January, sliding to volume of $125 million, off more than fourfold from $600 million in December. Purchases of jewelry online fell twofold in January, totaling $62 million against $179 million in December, while food and beverages bought the e-way slumped to $88 million from $336 million and sales of flowers withered to $36 million from volume of $107 million in the prior month.
The online survey was based on a sample of 5,000 Internet users and weighted to reflect a representative sample of Net users in the U.S.
“Online retailers’ increased understanding of these cycles will allow them to better tailor their businesses to satisfy their customers, which, in turn, will allow for continued overall growth,” stated Tracy Mullin, president of the NRF.