NEW YORK: Digital marketers in the US should display "tempered optimism" about their prospects for the coming year, a study from comScore, the online research firm, has suggested.

The company's study revealed that total ecommerce spending stood at $209.6bn (€155bn, £135.9bn) in the US last year, off by 2% on an annual basis, ending almost a decade of double-digit growth.

In 2008, online retail expenditure rose by 6% as the world's largest economy entered recession, but as the country has since returned to GDP growth, comScore said firms could hope to make real progress in 2010.

More specifically, many organisations that streamlined their operations in the difficult financial conditions are now well-equipped to seek out new opportunities, especially in ecommerce and social media.

Four out of five American web users visited at least one social networking site during December 2009, with these properties accounting for 11% of total domestic internet activity over the year as a whole.

Facebook remained the most popular site of its kind, reaching 112 million visitors in the final month of 2009, while Twitter's user numbers grew from 2 million to 20 million in the closing year of the decade.

ComScore's predicted trends for 2010 included the further expansion of Twitter, and heightened marketing activity related to social media more broadly.

"Even as new capabilities emerge that leverage the social value of the medium, it is worth remembering that this channel can already deliver substantial reach for ad campaigns," its report added.

ComScore also warned, however, that the sheer volume of data available on the web, and specifically social networks, presented a major challenge to market researchers.

Turning to the search market, Microsoft-owned sites, including Bing, captured a US share of 10.7% among internet users last year, up from 8.3% in 2008, but Google remained dominant, up by 2.2%, to 65.7%.

With regard to advertising, the online search market was found to have grown by 16% in 2009, and the advent of real-time search, brought about by microblogging, should accelerate this trend going forward.

Meanwhile, the online population viewed a total of 4.3 trillion display ads in 2009, up by 21% from 2008.

AT&T and Verizon, both mobile network providers, were the top two firms in terms of ad impressions, accounting for 84.3 billion and 56.8 billion of the overall figure respectively.

Online video viewing levels climbed by 19% year-on-year, with the typical duration of content played back rising from 3.2 to 4.1 minutes, and the average netizen consuming 187 pieces of content in December 2009.

Smartphone penetration also rose in the US last year, with 17% of mobile phone subscribers using these devices as of December.

RiM, the maker of the BlackBerry range, took a market share of 41.6%, followed by Apple, which launched the iPhone in 2007, on 25.3%, up by 8.5% compared with the previous 12 months.

"Companies that are most efficient in scaling up their operations and in developing new and innovative approaches to complex business issues are the ones who will capture the largest share of the pie as the economy rebounds," the comScore report stated.

Data sourced from comScore; additional content by Warc staff