Electronic Catalog: Census Releases First E-commerce Report

One-half of 1% of all retail sales in 1999 were conducted on the Internet, according to the U.S. Census Bureau’s first-ever report on e-commerce, released in March. The report also found that business-to-business transactions accounted for more than 90% of all online transactions.

On the business-to-consumer front, U.S. retail e-commerce sales totaled $15.0 billion, according to the 1999 Annual Retail Trade Survey of more 19,000 retailers. Total retail sales for 1999 were $2.87 trillion. Among the categories of merchandise sold, the Internet has had the greatest impact on books and magazines: 45.2% of all books and magazines bought by consumers in 1999 were purchased via the Internet. Nearly one-third of all computer software sold to consumers was purchased online as well (see chart at right).

Nonstore retailers, which include catalogers and Internet pure-plays, accounted for 77%, or $12 billion, of retail e-commerce sales. Dealers of motor vehicles and parts made up the next-largest segment of online sales, accounting for 12%, or $2 billion, of retail e-commerce sales.

Online sales (excluding those of online services) made up a far larger portion of total b-to-b revenue than of retail sales. The $134 billion in 1999 online b-to-b revenue accounted for 5.3% of the year’s total b-to-b sales of $2.54 trillion. Three groups accounted for more than 75% of the total b-to-b e-commerce sales: Wholesalers of pharmaceuticals and druggists’ sundries accounted for 35% of b-to-b sales, or $47 billion; wholesalers of motor vehicles parts and supplies accounted for another 25%, or $33 billion; and wholesalers of professional and commercial equipment and supplies accounted for 16%, or $22 billion. The information was collected in the 1999 Annual Trade Survey of more than 6,900 merchant wholesalers.


In addition to the U.S. Census Bureau’s most recent study, the Census Bureau of the Department of Commerce released in February its report on sales for the fourth quarter of 2000. U.S. retail e-commerce sales for the quarter (not adjusted for seasonal, holiday, and trading-day differences) reached an estimated $8.69 billion, up 67.1% from the fourth quarter of 1999. Total retail sales for the fourth quarter of 2000 were estimated at $856.2 billion, an increase of 4.2% from the same quarter in 1999. E-commerce sales for the quarter accounted for more than 1% of total sales, compared to 0.6% in the same quarter of ’99.

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