April 2 (Reuters) - U.S. neighborhood and community center vacancies fell for the second straight quarter, indicating a pickup in a market that has remained subdued since 2013 as consumers increasingly take to online shopping, real estate research firm Reis Inc said.
Vacancies at U.S. neighborhood and community centers, which generally house discount stores, drugstores and supermarkets, fell to 10.1 percent in the first quarter from 10.2 percent in the fourth, Reis said.
"Just a 40 basis-point annual decline in vacancy would be the best performance (for the sector) since 2000 during the dot.com bubble," said Ryan Severino, senior economist at Reis.
New construction hovers at low levels as the market has little enthusiasm for developing new centers, preferring expansions, Reis said.
Many U.S. retailers, including Sears, JC Penney and Macy's, have shut stores in malls to take advantage of booming e-commerce sales, which are expected to nearly double to $434.2 billion by 2017, according to statistics firm Statista.
Severino said he expected an improvement in market fundamentals to persist through 2015.
U.S. retail mall vacancies fell to 7.9 percent in the first three months of the year, from 8.0 percent in the preceding three months, Reis said.
Asking rents for shopping centers rose by 1.8 percent from a year earlier, its strongest increase since before the recession, mainly due to lower availability of space at high-end malls. (Reporting by Sagarika Jaisinghani and Ankit Ajmera in Bengaluru)