US Census Bureau


Guide to the
1997 Economic Census

How Are the Data Collected?

Economic Census

For the 1997 Economic Census, data for retail stores were gathered through a combination of questionnaires, which were sent to all but the smallest firms, and the administrative records of other Federal agencies. There were 36 variants of the census questionnaire, permitting each kind of business to answer in terms of categories relevant to its operations. Questionnaires were mailed to all firms above a certain size cutoff, and to a sample of smaller firms with paid employees. Information for firms with no employees and for small firms not in the sample were obtained from Federal administrative records.


The Census Bureau also conducts monthly and annual retail trade surveys to obtain more current data. These surveys are based on samples of firms with employees identified in the census, supplemented with samples of nonemployers and recent "births" (newly created firms) identified from administrative records during the years between the 5-year censuses. Most of the data are obtained by mail. These surveys concentrate on a much narrower set of data items than the census--i.e., monthly and annual sales, monthly and year-end inventories, and inventory/sales ratios.

Census mail and nonmail universes
Census classification of establishments by industry
Samples of retail trade census forms
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