NAICS Not Yet a Common Language

When the North American Industry Classification System (NAICS) debuted in 1997, it was supposed to take the place of the Standard Industrial Classification (SIC) code. In fact, for the U.S. Census Bureau and other governmental departments, NAICS has officially replaced SIC. But seven years later, most list firms and catalogers still prefer to use SIC codes to search for and identify businesses.

NAICS was developed in part to better enable the U.S. and its North American Fair Trade Agreement (NAFTA) partners, Canada and Mexico, to compare data. And by identifying businesses and market sectors that didn’t exist when the SIC system was established during the Depression, it was also supposed to provide users with more detailed information. But some users say that “NAICS didn’t do the job any better,” according to Kirk Chritton, spokesperson for list firm MCH.

Furthermore, marketers that had a documented history using SIC codes were loathe to try to convert their data to NAICS codes. “They know how to use SIC,” Chritton says. “We’ve had one government client who has requested the NAICS data. But for the most part, people still talk in SIC codes.”