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Census Bureau Provides Data on Fast-Growing Retail E-Commerce Sales

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A well-documented change in the retail sector in the past 20 years is the evolution from mostly brick-and-mortar stores to e-commerce sales.

On a seasonally adjusted basis, e-commerce as a percent of total retail sales grew from 0.6% in the fourth quarter of 1999 to 16.1% in the second quarter of 2020, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

Upcoming national retail events such as Black Friday (traditional stores) and Cyber Monday (e-commerce) illustrate the impact these events have on the retail sector.

Upcoming national retail events such as Black Friday (traditional stores) and Cyber Monday (e-commerce) illustrate the impact these events have on the retail sector.

The Census Bureau recognizes the importance of the growing e-commerce portion of the retail economy and continues to introduce new data products to supplement the quarterly retail e-commerce report and the Annual E-Stats report.

In recent years, it has responded to data users requesting more detailed e-commerce sales information.

The Census Bureau has long published the following monthly, quarterly and annual retail data products:

  • Advance Monthly Retail and Food Services Sales Report and Monthly Retail Trade Report include estimates for companies classified by the North American Industry Classification System (NAICS) as Nonstore Retailers (NAICS 454) and a subset of those companies NAICS 4541 (only in Monthly Retail Trade Survey) called “Electronic Shopping and Mail-Order Houses.”
  • Quarterly E-Commerce Report includes a single quarterly estimate of all retail e-commerce sales captured by the Monthly Retail Trade Survey.
  • Annual Retail Trade Survey produces national estimates of total annual sales, e-commerce sales, sales taxes, end-of-year inventories, purchases, total operating expenses, gross margins, and end-of-year accounts receivable for retail businesses located in the United States.

Adapting to Change

A Census Bureau E-Commerce Data Analysis Team sought feedback from internal and external stakeholders to balance data users’ needs, protecting respondents’ confidentiality and determining the value of publishing a table with limited information.

The feedback led to new data and ways of presenting it, including combining sales and e-commerce data of nonstore retailers with their major kind of business.

The team used existing Annual Retail Trade Survey and Monthly Retail Trade Survey data to create supplemental annual and experimental quarterly tables.

This led to a supplemental annual table first released with the 2015 E-Stats report in June 2017.

The first experimental data tables for the Quarterly Retail E-Commerce Sales Report were released last year. Data in these supplemental tables are available back to the first quarter of 2018 when the current Monthly Retail Trade Survey sample was introduced.


The Census Bureau also provides a helpful infographic (pages 10-18 of the pdf) explaining how this supplemental table came to be.


Adam Grundy is a supervisory statistician in the Economic Management Division at the Census Bureau.


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Page Last Revised - October 8, 2021
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