Byline: Valerie Seckler

NEW YORK — Apparel merchants can do better than simply gripe that bad weather has curtailed sales: They can move to shift some of that “lost” business into cyberspace, based on a trend that took form in February, when cybershoppers spent roughly $201 million online for clothing, a 12 percent jump over the $179 million they spent on the fashion category in January.
In their monthly online sales survey, released Thursday, the NRF and Forrester Research found U.S. consumers spent $3.4 billion overall on the Internet last month, up from $3 billion in January. Users each spent an average of $248 online in February, compared with $229 in January, as the number of households with Internet connections rose to 13.5 million from 13.3 million.
“Land-based retailers were challenged in February by bad weather in many parts of the country, which kept many consumers house-bound,” noted an NRF spokeswoman who cited harsh weather in the Midwest as particularly problematic. “The online figures show strength in areas where physical stores were weakest last month, suggesting that consumers embraced the multichannel approach.”
The biggest increase was realized by e-tailers of appliances, who saw sales surge 83 percent, to $44 million from $24 million. Sales at jewelry Web sites grew 68 percent, totaling $104 million, versus $62 million in January, while sales of health and beauty aids expanded 38 percent, tallying $121 million against $88 million.
Despite these favorable trends, Ben Narasin, chief executive officer of Inc., warned Thursday that first-quarter sales at the six-year-old portal are trending flat versus a year ago, and sales for the full year ending Dec. 31 could decline — “perhaps substantially” — versus 2000. The forecast came in the dot-com’s fourth-quarter conference call with analysts, when Fashionmall said it narrowed its loss to $917,000 in the period ended Dec. 31, 2000, from a year-ago loss of $3.3 million. Revenue for the quarter increased 58 percent, to $1.7 million from $1.08 million. For the full year, Fashionmall’s loss came to $7 million, versus a loss of $9.4 million in 1999, as revenue ran up 46 percent, to $5.4 million from $3.7 million.