Customers of the Army and Air Force Exchange Service spent 31 percent more money on online purchases this year.

AAFES is projecting online sales of $150 million for the fiscal year ending Jan. 31, up from $114.5 million the previous year. The rise is similar to a U.S. trend that saw online sales rise by 29 percent in 2003, according to ComScore, a market research firm that tracks online sales.

Customers deployed for Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation Enduring Freedom had placed 5,508 online orders totaling $1.3 million through Dec. 31, according to AAFES.

Lt. Col. Debra Pressley, a spokeswoman for Dallas-based AAFES, said in a written response to Stars and Stripes that the rise was due to increased marketing and improved selection at the eX Exchange Online Store.

“We focused our buying efforts on improving our merchandise selection in … categories that our customers have indicated are most important to them,” Pressley said. Those categories included jewelry, electronics, furniture and goods for juveniles, she said.

Pressley said AAFES increased its marketing by using online sweepstakes and other online promotions, e-mailed newsletters and more print advertising.

She said the AAFES Web site and its search mode also were redesigned.

Pressley said that AAFES’ overall retail sales through November were 8 percent higher than for the same period in 2002. Sales in both the Europe and Pacific regions were up 8 percent, she said, while stateside sales were flat.

AAFES’ increase in online sales is similar to what others retailers are reporting. Sears Roebuck and Co., for example, reported online sales were up 40 percent in 2003, compared with 2002.

According to TechWeb News, online retail spending in the United States from Nov. 1 through Dec. 26 rose 42 percent compared with the same period in 2002 — from $670 million to $950 million. The figures were generated by ComScore, which tracked a group of 1.5 million Internet users.

For all of 2003, online retail spending was up 29 percent, according to ComScore.

TechWeb News reported that online shoppers wanted to avoid crowds and bad weather. Sales spiked sharply during weekends when there was a snowstorm, the report said.

But according to Investor’s Business Daily, online purchases by consumers account for only 3 percent of total retail sales in the United States. The increase in online purchases was not enough to greatly affect overall retail sales, according to the publication.

AAFES is a joint command of the U.S. Army and U.S. Air Force that operates base exchanges and many other businesses on U.S. military installations.

Its two missions, according to the AAFES Web site, is to provide military exchanges and other stores with merchandise and services for authorized customers, and to generate money for military morale, welfare and recreation programs.

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