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Quarterly E-Commerce Report - General FAQs

Who uses the statistics produced from data collected in the Quarterly Retail E-Commerce Report?
  • 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 kinds of businesses are included in the Quarterly Retail E-commerce Report?
The Quarterly Retail E-commerce Report covers firms classified in the Retail Trade 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.

Are the statistics produced from the Quarterly Retail E-commerce Report available at the state or other sub-national level?
No. The Quarterly Retail E-commerce Report is designed to produce statistics at the national level only.

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. The U.S. Census Bureau is required by Section 9 of Title 13 United States Code to keep respondents' information confidential and can use the information only to produce statistics. The Census Bureau is not permitted to publicly release a respondent's information in a way that could identify a business, organization, or institution. Per the Federal Cybersecurity Enhancement Act of 2015, submitted data are protected from cybersecurity risks through screening of the systems that transmit the data.

What types of transactions are considered e-commerce sales, when collected as part of the Quarterly Retail E-Commerce Report?
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).

Are e-commerce sales included in current monthly retail sales estimates?
Yes. In addition, we are separately estimating e-commerce sales.

Are you estimating total sales differently as a result of measuring e-commerce sales?
No. The Monthly Retail Trade Survey covers all sales of establishments primarily engaged in retail activities, including traditional retailers selling via the Internet and companies selling goods exclusively on-line. The survey excludes companiesÂ’ conducting non-retail operations such as travel, ticketing, and financial services.

How are e-commerce sales data obtained from the firms in the monthly survey?
Firms are asked to report e-commerce sales on the same questionnaire used to collect total retails sales.

Are sales at electronic auctions included in the e-commerce estimate?
Electronic auctions directed at individual consumers are classified as retail trade. However, commissions and fees, not sales, are included in the e-commerce estimate. This is similar to the way the Census Bureau treats sales at traditional auction houses.

How are gift certificates/cards treated?
Following generally accepted accounting principles, sales from gift certificates are included in the retail sales of firms at the time the gift certificate is redeemed.

Are foreign sales included in the e-commerce estimate?
The e-commerce and total sales estimates include sales covering all store and non-store retail locations in the United States operated by a firm selected in the survey. Sales made to a customer in a foreign country via a U.S. web site are included in the estimates.

When an e-commerce transaction is made, at what point is the sale of the item reflected in the Census Bureau's estimates?
This may vary slightly from company to company, but according to the Financial Accounting Standards Board (FASB), revenue is recognized upon shipment of the merchandise, which is when it would be reflected in the Census Bureau's estimates.

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