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Economy in Brief

U.S. Retail E-Commerce Sales Rebound in Q4'21
by Winnie Tapasanun  February 18, 2022

• Sales +1.7% q/q, the third q/q gain in four quarters; +9.4% y/y.

• Increase in sales led by general merchandise (+75.5% q/q), partially offset by motor vehicles & parts (-0.8% q/q).

Online retail sales, more formally known as "E-Commerce sales," rose 1.7% q/q SA (9.4% y/y) in Q4'21 after a 3.2% decline in Q3 (-3.3% initially) and a 3.1% increase in Q2, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. For all of 2021, E-Commerce sales rose 14.6% after having gained 31.8% in 2020 and 14.1% in 2019.

The Q4'21 rise in E-Commerce sales was slightly smaller than a 2.5% q/q gain (15.2% y/y) in overall retail sales during the same period. This overall measure of retail sales excludes food services and restaurant sales. E-Commerce sales accounted for 12.9% of total retail sales in Q4'21, compared to 13.0% in Q3, 13.3% in Q2, 13.2% in 2021 and 13.6% in 2020.

Details of the E-Commerce data by sector are not seasonally adjusted. Sales of nonstore retailers, which accounted for 53.6% of total E-Commerce sales in Q4'21, rebounded 19.7% q/q (11.5% y/y) in Q4 after a 2.7% decline in Q3. General merchandise store sales surged 75.5% (17.0% y/y), the fastest q/q rise since Q2'20, after a 5.3% slide. Clothing accessory store sales jumped 45.6% (3.9% y/y), the largest q/q gain since Q4'20, after a 2.6% decline. Sporting goods, hobby, musical instrument & book sales advanced 39.4% (6.5% y/y), the third straight q/q gain, after a 2.9% increase. Sales of furniture & home furnishings jumped 16.2% (4.4% y/y), the third successive q/q advance, on top of a 5.0% increase. Food & beverage purchases rose 10.9% (-0.9% y/y), the first q/q rise since Q4'20, after a 0.8% decline. Building materials & garden equipment sales grew 9.7% (29.7% y/y), reversing a 4.9% drop. Miscellaneous sales including gasoline stations rebounded 8.5% (8.0% y/y) vs. a 3.5% decline. In contrast, online sales of motor vehicles & parts fell 0.8% (+15.9% y/y) in Q4 following a 6.0% Q3 drop and five consecutive q/q increases.

E-commerce sales are goods and services ordered 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 and sometimes sale & price are negotiated. 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.

Shares Q4'21 Q3'21 Q2'21 Q4'21 Y/Y 2021 2020 2019
Total Retail Sales (%) 2.5 -1.2 5.3 15.2 18.1 3.1 3.0
Total E-Commerce Sales (SA) 1.7 -3.2 3.1 9.4 14.6 31.8 14.1
Total E-Commerce Sales (NSA) 100.0 25.7 -3.1 7.4 9.2 14.2 31.8 14.3
   Nonstore Retailers 53.6 19.7 -2.7 8.6 11.5 16.4 23.1 13.6
   Motor Vehicles & Parts 6.3 -0.8 -6.0 18.9 15.9 30.8 14.9 12.4
   Furniture & Home Furnishings 2.2 16.2 5.0 2.9 4.4 11.1 50.0 11.9
   Building Materials & Garden Equipment 3.2 9.7 -4.9 31.7 29.7 24.8 64.4 16.9
   Clothing & Accessories 7.9 45.6 -2.6 9.4 3.9 9.6 26.4 9.6
   General Merchandise 12.6 75.5 -5.3 9.4 17.0 16.4 52.4 21.5
   Food & Beverages 2.7 10.9 -0.8 -9.8 -0.9 12.3 141.1 57.7
   Sporting Goods, Hobby, Musical Instruments & Books 1.6 39.4 2.9 2.1 6.5 4.5 62.8 6.3
   Miscellaneous (Including Gas Stations) 1.5 8.5 -3.5 5.7 8.0 17.7 -10.8 3.4
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