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eMarketer's April 2014 report, “US Retail Ecommerce: 2014 Trends and Forecast,” featured estimates that digital spending on goods and services excluding travel would reach $304.1 billion in the US this year, up 15.5% over 2013 levels. But even this figure accounts for a tiny slice of total US retail sales—just 6.4%. By 2018, after several more years of double-digit growth, retail ecommerce sales will still make up less than 9% of retail sales in the country.
That situation will hold even as growth in total retail sales hovers around the 4% mark throughout eMarketer's forecast period.
But sales alone do not tell the whole story of US retail ecommerce. Consumers may not buy online all the time, but they are shopping through digital channels constantly. Digital shopping doesn't always lead to an immediate conversion. Retail executives, however, say it does translate to influence throughout the path to purchase.
“While the ecommerce piece of retail today is significant and a huge growth engine, the total impact of digital on the retail enterprise today [extends to] the majority of retail sales,” said Michael Burgess, president of HBC Digital at Hudson's Bay Company (HBC), operator of upscale US department store chains Lord & Taylor and Saks Fifth Avenue. “It's having a massive impact on the entire business.” Putting a more concrete figure to it, Timberland's Rachel Panetta, head of retail and ecommerce marketing, made “an educated guess” that 60% of retail sales in the US are influenced by digital tools in some way.
The influence works both ways. According to a November 2013 survey of US digital shoppers by consulting firm Accenture, 78% of respondents reported “webrooming,” or researching online before heading to a store to make a purchase. At the same time, some store trips eventually led to a digital purchase. The same Accenture study found that 72% of respondents “showroom,” or buy digitally after seeing a product in a store. Consumers, then, have merged online and offline into a single shopping experience.
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