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Monthly & Annual Wholesale Trade

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Who uses the statistics produced from data collected in the Annual Wholesale Trade Survey (AWTS)?

  • The Bureau of Economic Analysis uses these data for the nation's Gross Domestic Product (GDP) estimates and in developing the national accounts' input-output tables.
  • The Bureau of Labor Statistics uses these data as input to its Producer Price Indices and in developing productivity measurements.
  • Trade and professional organizations use these data to analyze industry trends and benchmark their own statistical programs, develop forecasts, and evaluate regulatory requirements.
  • The media use these data for news reports and background information.
  • Private businesses use these data to measure market share, analyze business potential, and plan investments.

What is the North American Industry Classification System (NAICS)?

The North American Industry Classification System (NAICS) is the standard used by Federal statistical agencies in classifying business establishments for the purpose of collecting, analyzing, and publishing statistical data related to the U.S. business economy. For additional information, see http://www.census.gov/eos/www/naics/.

What kinds of businesses are included in the Annual Wholesale Trade Survey (AWTS)?

AWTS covers firms classified in the Wholesale Trade sector as defined by the North American Industry Classification System (NAICS). Wholesale Trade, as defined by NAICS sector 42, includes establishments engaged in wholesaling merchandise, generally without transformation, and rendering services incidental to the sale of merchandise. The merchandise described in this sector includes the outputs of agriculture, mining, manufacturing, and certain information industries, such as publishing.

The wholesaling process is an intermediate step in the distribution of merchandise. Wholesalers are organized to sell or arrange the purchase or sale of (a) goods for resale (i.e., goods sold to other wholesalers or retailers), (b) capital or durable nonconsumer goods, and (c) raw and intermediate materials and supplies used in production.

Wholesalers sell merchandise to other businesses and normally operate from a warehouse or office. These warehouses and offices are characterized by having little or no display of merchandise. In addition, neither the design nor the location of the premises is intended to solicit walk-in traffic. Wholesalers do not normally use advertising directed to the general public. Customers are generally reached initially via telephone, in-person marketing, or by specialized advertising that may include Internet and other electronic means. Follow-up orders are either vendor-initiated or client-initiated, generally based on previous sales, and typically exhibit strong ties between sellers and buyers. In fact, transactions are often conducted between wholesalers and clients that have long-standing business relationships.

This sector comprises two main types of wholesalers: merchant wholesalers that sell goods on their own account and business-to-business electronic markets, agents, and brokers that arrange sales and purchases for others generally for a commission or fee.

(1) Establishments that sell goods on their own account are known as wholesale merchants, distributors, jobbers, drop shippers, and import/export merchants. Also included as wholesale merchants are sales offices and sales branches (but not retail stores) maintained by manufacturing, refining, or mining enterprises apart from their plants or mines for the purpose of marketing their products and group purchasing organizations (e.g., purchasing and selling goods on their own account). Merchant wholesale establishments typically maintain their own warehouse, where they receive and handle goods for their customers. Goods are generally sold without transformation, but may include integral functions, such as sorting, packaging, labeling, and other marketing services.

(2) Establishments arranging for the purchase or sale of goods owned by others or purchasing goods, generally on a commission basis are known as business-to-business electronic markets, agents and brokers, commission merchants, import/export agents and brokers, auction companies, group purchasing organization (e.g., purchasing or arranging for the purchases of goods owned by others), and manufacturers' representatives. These establishments operate from offices and generally do not own or handle the goods they sell.

Some wholesale establishments may be connected with a single manufacturer and promote and sell the particular manufacturers' products to a wide range of other wholesalers or retailers. Other wholesalers may be connected to a retail chain, or limited number of retail chains, and only provide a variety of products needed by that particular retail operation(s). These wholesalers may obtain the products from a wide range of manufacturers. Still other wholesalers may not take title to the goods, but act as agents and brokers for a commission.

Although, in general, wholesaling normally denotes sales in large volumes, durable nonconsumer goods may be sold in single units. Sales of capital or durable nonconsumer goods used in the production of goods and services, such as farm machinery, medium and heavy duty trucks, and industrial machinery, are always included in wholesale trade.

When are the results from the Annual Wholesale Trade Survey published?

AWTS estimates are published approximately 14 months after the reference year. For example, estimates for the 2010 reference year were released in February 2012.

What is sampling variability and how do I interpret it?

Because estimates are based on a sample rather than the entire population, the published estimates may differ from the actual, but unknown, population values. In principle, many random samples could be drawn and each would give a different result. This is because each sample would be made up of different businesses who would give different answers to the questions asked.

Common measures of the variability among these estimates are the sampling variance, the standard error, and the coefficient of variation (CV). The sampling variance is defined as the squared difference, averaged over all possible samples of the same size and design, between the estimator and its average value. The standard error is the square root of the sampling variance. The CV expresses the standard error as a percentage of the estimate to which it refers. For example, an estimate of 200 units that has an estimated standard error of 10 units has an estimated CV of 5 percent. The CV has the advantage of being a relative, rather than an absolute, measure and can be used to compare the reliability of one estimate to another.

What steps does the Census Bureau undertake to ensure the confidentiality of the respondents' data?

The Census Bureau takes its commitment to confidentiality very seriously. It constantly pursues new procedures, technologies, and methodologies to safeguard individual data. Every person with access to person or business data, from the Director on down, is sworn by Title 13 to protect confidentiality and is subject to criminal penalties if they do not. Tight computer security and strict access and handling procedures are followed.

What types of transactions are considered e-commerce sales, when collected as part of the Annual Wholesale Trade Survey (AWTS)?

E-commerce sales are sales of goods and services where the buyer places an order, or the price and terms of the sale are negotiated, over an Internet, mobile device (M-Commerce), extranet, Electronic Data Interchange (EDI) network, electronic mail, or other comparable online system. Payment may or may not be made online.

Source: U.S. Census Bureau | Service Sector Statistics Division |   Last Revised: February 28, 2013