While anecdotal evidence indicated that online sales were continuing stronger than offline in the first quarter of 2008, there was no generally available hard evidence until May 15. That’s when the Census Bureau of the U.S. Department of Commerce released its quarterly online sales numbers. The results: E-commerce sales had grown 13.6% while total retail sales were up 2.8%.
While not the torrid growth of prior years, many felt it was good growth in a troubled economy-not to mention more than four times the growth rate of total retail sales. Online sales in the first quarter on a seasonally adjusted basis reached $33.79 billion, up 13.6% from a year earlier. Total retail sales equaled $1.02 trillion, up 2.8%. Not adjusted for seasonal variations, e-commerce sales reached $32.4 billion, up 13.4%, while total sales were $965.5 billion, up 3.7%.
The Census Bureau reports that online accounts for 3.4% of all retail sales, but the Bureau leaves out of its calculations sales on eBay.com that could be considered retail. Internet Retailer estimates that amounted to $10.25 billion in Q1. In addition, the Census Bureau computes the percentage on the basis of all retail sales which it defines to include restaurant, service station and fuel sales, all transactions not likely to ever convert to online. Factoring out sales in those areas and including eBay sales, online accounts for 6.7% of all retail sales that could occur online.
The Census Bureau obtains its data from a survey of 12,500 retail companies.