May 3, 2011, 4:10 PM

What this year’s Top 500 numbers really mean

Mark Brohan

Research Director

Business is getting back to normal in the online retail market.

 Consider these facts:

  • Sales of the Top 500 retailers grew 18% to $150.0 billion in 2010 from $127.1 billion in 2009.
  • Total U.S. e-commerce sales increased year over year 14.8% to $165.4 billion from $144.1 billion, according to the U.S. Department of Commerce.
  • In Canada, based on an Internet Retailer analysis of e-commerce data from Forrester Research and Statistics Canada, the government agency equivalent of the U.S. Census Bureau, online retailing sales grew by 8.1% to an estimated $8.0 billion last year from $7.4 billion in the prior year.
  • In 2010, total U.S. retail sales grew 6.9% to $3.88 trillion from $3.63 trillion in 2009. But the online channel remains the fastest-growing segment in the retailing industry. Top 500 retailers grew their collective sales in the U.S. to $127.1 billion in 2010 from $105.8 billion in 2009, an increase of 20.1%. Last year, Top 500 retailers and their U.S. sales also accounted for 76.8% of all domestic e-commerce sales compared with 73.4% in 2009.

The overall numbers show that online retailing had another big year in 2010. But an analysis of the numbers also shows some interesting developments that show precisely who’s moving ahead—and who’s falling back—in the e-commerce game.

The winners include:

  •, No. 1 in the Internet Retailer Top 500 Guide. If the online retail market isn’t quite Amazon and everyone else, it can be argued that it is heading in that direction. Overall, Amazon grew sales to $34.20 billion in 2010, a 39.5% increase from $24.51 billion last year. Amazon’s North American sales, which totaled $18.7 billion, up 46.1% from $12.8 billion in 2009, also were big enough to account for 12.5% of all North American Top 500 sales and 11.3% of all U.S. e-commerce sales.
  • The Top 100 retailers. The Top 100 grew 18.8% to $129.4 billion in 2010 from $108.9 billion in 2009.

The losers include:

  • Many Top 500 catalogers. Even with their direct marketing base and expertise as a potential advantage, rising print and mailing costs are holding many traditional catalog companies back from making a faster transition to more e-commerce sales. As a group, Top 500 catalog/call center companies grew 10.8% to $20.43 billion in 2010, the slowest increase among all Top 500 merchant types.
  • Chain retailers that concentrate only on stores. At 42 of 65, or 64.6%, of leading department store, specialty apparel, general merchandise and other chain retailers, the growth online in 2010 exceeded the increase in annual comparable-store sales. That compares with 37 of 65 Top 500 retail chains in 2009.

The e-commerce market is now well into its second generation, but make no mistake: With more new developments such as mobile commerce and social media on the way, the online retail market isn’t in an evolution—it’s a revolution in the way consumers now like to shop. Our eighth edition of the Top 500 Guide, like its predecessors, once more lays out the industry’s statistics and explains what is making the market tick. The numbers get better every year—by using this Top 500 Guide as a strategic marketing and business analysis tool, we think you will too.



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