E-commerce retail sales could top $50B in 4th qtr.

I have noted in other columns that I am a notoriously bad shopper. It's not that I don't know how to price compare. I do it to such a degree that I wind up rarely making a purchase.

That's why, in theory, shopping over the Internet should appeal to me. Price discovery is a click away, there are always many choices, and I don't have to leave the house.

However, I really haven't bought much online over the years. I remain a window shopper, usually talking myself out of many purchases that I sort of wanted, but certainly didn't need.

Still, the United States is gearing up for its annual holiday shopping binge, as the catalogs, e-mail coupons and Christmas carol commercials remind me. Judging by the trends in the U.S. Census Bureau's quarterly retail e-commerce sales, more than 5 percent of all retail sales in the fourth quarter will occur online.

Statistics released Thursday showed e-commerce sales for the third quarter reached $48.2 billion on a seasonally adjusted basis, up 13.7 percent from the third quarter of 2010. The economic forecasting firm IHS Global Insight projects that e-commerce sales for the fourth quarter should top $50 billion for the first time.

In a note, IHS U.S. economist Erik Johnson notes the usual headwinds confronting the mighty American consumer: anemic wage growth, higher food prices, and measures of confidence and sentiment are at recession levels.

Still, e-commerce sales barely missed a beat during the most recent recession, flattening at about 3.6 percent of total U.S. retail sales for a four-quarter period. E-tailers (good dot-com word that) have since resumed their share-taking ways.

As for me, I'll push my electronic shopping cart and fill out my wish lists over the next few weeks. But, without more jingle in my pocket, I probably won't be visiting check-out very often.

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