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Monthly & Annual Retail Trade

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Who uses the statistics produced from data collected in the Annual Retail Trade Survey (ARTS)?

  • 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, please see NAICS.

What kinds of businesses are included in the Annual Retail Trade Survey (ARTS)?

ARTS covers firms classified in the Retail Trade and Accommodation and Food Services sectors as defined by the North American Industry Classification System (NAICS). Retail Trade, as defined by NAICS sectors 44-45, includes establishments engaged in selling merchandise in small quantities to the general public, without transformation, and rendering services incidental to the sale of merchandise. Two principal types of establishments classified in retail trade can be distinguished-

1. Store retailers operate fixed point-of-sale locations, located and designed to attract a high volume of walk-in customers. They have extensive displays of merchandise, use mass-media advertising to attract customers and typically sell merchandise to the general public for personal or household use. Some store retailers also provide after-sales services, such as repair and installation; for example, new automobile dealers.

2. Nonstore retailers also serve the general public, but their retailing methods differ. Such methods include paper and electronic catalogs, door-to-door solicitation, in-home demonstration, "infomercials," selling from portable stalls or through vending machines.

Industries in the accommodation subsector, as defined by NAICS subsector 721, provide lodging or short-term accommodations for travelers, vacationers, and others. The subsector is organized into three groups: (1) traveler accommodation, (2) recreational accommodation, and (3) rooming and boarding houses. Establishments that manage short-stay accommodations (e.g., hotels and motels) on a contractual basis are classified in this subsector if they both manage the operation and provide the operating staff.

Food services, as defined by NAICS subsector 722, include establishments that prepare meals, snacks, and beverages to customer order for immediate on-premises and off-premises consumption.

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

ARTS estimates are published approximately 15 months after the reference year. For example, estimates for the 2010 reference year were released in March 2012.

Are the statistics produced from the Annual Retail Trade Survey available at the state or other sub-national level?

No. ARTS is designed to produce statistics at the national level only. Statistics at the state level and other more detailed geographic levels for selected data items are produced every 5 years as part of the Economic Census. For more information, please see the 2007 Economic Census. Additionally, statistics on number of establishments, employment, and payroll at detailed geographic levels are released annually in the Census Bureau's County Business Patterns. For more information, please see the County Business Patterns.

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 Retail Trade Survey (ARTS)?

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.

Where are e-commerce sales tabulated for traditional brick-and-mortar retailers?

Generally, e-commerce divisions of brick-and-mortar companies would be included in electronic shopping and mail-order houses as long as they do not fulfill e-commerce orders from their stores (companies would provide separate information to us for their brick-and-mortar stores vs. their e-commerce division). This is similar to how companies would split reporting between two distinct brick-and-mortar divisions (a company that owns grocery stores and department stores for example).

Source: U.S. Census Bureau | Monthly & Annual Retail Trade | (301) 763-2713 or (301) 763-2747 |  Last Revised: July 06, 2015