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Monthly Retail Trade Survey - General FAQs

Who uses the statistics produced from data collected in the Monthly Retail Trade Survey (MRTS)?
  • 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 kinds of businesses are included in the Monthly Retail Trade Survey (MRTS)?
MRTS covers firms classified in the Retail Trade 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.

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.

Are the statistics produced from the Monthly Retail Trade Survey available at the state or other sub-national level?
No. MRTS 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 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 County Business Patterns.

Why is the Monthly Retail Trade Survey conducted?
The Monthly Retail Trade Survey (MRTS) is conducted to provide an up to date indication of sales at retail and food services stores and inventories held by retail stores (MRTS only). The surveys provide reliable measures of current economic activity that are essential to an objective assessment of the need for, and impact of, a wide range of public policy decisions.

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.

Are sales taxes included in published sales estimates?
No. Respondents are instructed to exclude sales taxes in their reported monthly sales. However, excise taxes are included.

If a firm sells to both household consumers and businesses from the same location, are sales to businesses excluded?
No. A firm is classified by its major source of receipts by establishment. Firms are instructed to report their total sales for a given month for all retail establishments even if they include some non-retail receipts. For example, if a firm operates an establishment engaged in both retail and wholesale operations, but the majority of sales are from the retail operation, the establishment is classified as retail.

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 U.S. 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.

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.

What types of transactions are considered e-commerce sales, when collected as part of the Monthlyl Retail Trade Survey (MRTS/MARTS)?
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.

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

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).

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