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Computer hardware and software, travel, and books account for more than three-quarters of all online sales notching up more than $3.5 billion in sales out of a total global spend of $4.5 billion in 1998. But the dominance of computer-related sales online -- which accounts for $1.65 billion or nearly 40 per cent of Net sales this year -- is set to decline in the next couple of years as it's overtaken by more mainstream consumer items, according to industry watcher eMarketer. By 2002, travel -- which includes airfares, accommodation, car rental and tourism services -- and food will topple the computer sector from its current number one slot and relegate it to third place. eMarketer predicts that the travel sector will generate more than $8.14 billion in retail sales by 2002. Food and drink, led primarily by the greater acceptance of online shopping for groceries, will jump from lowly seventh place today to second place in three years with sales topping $7 billion. "Most people think of computers, travel and books as being popular online," said eMarketer statsmaster Geoffrey Ramsey. "But our revenue figures reveal just how powerful these categories actually are in today's online marketplace." Which is great news for e-commerce enthusiasts -- if only it can be believed. For eMarketer has broken ranks and questioned the accuracy of a number of e-commerce statistics currently doing the rounds. Depending who you believe, anything from $1.3 billion to $4.4 billion is going to be spent online during the fourth quarter this year as more and more people turn to the Net to buy their Christmas presents. eMarketer blames these variations on academic differences. But when pressed on the issue and asked to give any lead to confused readers, they simply shrug their shoulders and say, "You decide." Very helpful. Is The Register alone in thinking that the only people making any real money out of e-commerce are the pseudo-academic researchers plucking fictitious numbers out of the air? Surely not. ®

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