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Economy in Brief

E-Commerce Sales Strengthen
by Tom Moeller  May 19, 2020

The U.S. Commerce Department reported that during the first quarter of this year, retail sales via the internet (E-Commerce) rose 2.4% (SA) from Q4. The gain followed a 2.2% Q4 rise. E-Commerce sales increased a steady 14.8% y/y.

This strength compares to a 1.3% Q1 decline (+2.1% y/y) in retail sales. As a result, E-Commerce sales rose to 11.8% of total retail sales last quarter, up from 10.9% in 2019 and, by comparison, 4.4% in 2010.

Detail of the E-Commerce data are not seasonally adjusted. Compared to last year, these figures show strength in most categories during Q1'20, led by an 80.5% y/y rise in food & beverage purchases. Furniture & home furnishing store sales rose 23.4% y/y. Furniture and food, however, account for relatively little of E-Commerce sales overall. Nonstore retail sales, which account for 60% of total E-Commerce sales, rose 12.4% y/y. General merchandise sales, which account for nine percent of the total, rose 21.6% y/y.

E-commerce sales are sales of goods and services whereby the buyer places an order, or the terms of the sale and price 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. Total sales estimates are adjusted for seasonal variation, but not for price changes. They are also adjusted for trading-day differences and moving holidays.

The retail sales and retail E-Commerce sales data can be found in Haver's USECON database.

Q1'20 Q4'19 Q3'19 Q1'20 Y/Y 2019 2018 2017
Total Retail Sales (%) -1.3 0.5 1.0 2.1 3.4 4.2 4.6
% of E-Commerce Sales
Total E-Commerce Sales (SA) 100 2.4 2.2 4.7 14.8 14.9 13.4 15.5
Total E-Commerce Sales (NSA) -- -21.1 27.7 4.7 14.5 -- -- --
   Nonstore Retailers (NSA) 60 -19.8 22.8 5.2 12.4 NA NA NA
   Motor Vehicles & Parts 5 -11.5 1.3 4.4 4.6 -- -- --
   Furniture & Home Furnishings 2 -6.4 18.6 4.1 23.4 -- -- --
   Building Materials & Garden Equipment 2 -6.6 7.6 -9.5 18.6 -- -- --
   Clothing & Accessories 8 -36.4 57.8 4.8 9.6 -- -- --
   General Merchandise 9 -42.3 74.0 3.5 21.6 -- -- --
   Food & Beverages 1 8.4 30.1 12.8 80.5 -- -- --
   Sporting Goods, Hobby, Musical Instruments & Books 1 -25.7 33.6 19.0 12.9 -- -- --
   Miscellaneous (Including Gas Stations) 3 -10.2 5.5 -0.4 -2.8 -- -- --
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