Visualizing Over 20 Years of Retail Sales and E-Commerce in the U.S. Retail Industry

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by howmuch

The coronavirus pandemic is once again causing new widespread business lockdowns. For lots of people, this means the only way to order Christmas gifts is through the Internet. However, the consumer shift to e-commerce instead of in-person shopping is a long-standing trend, as our most recent visualization makes clear.

US retail sales and ecommerce

  • E-commerce sales have continuously increased every year since 1999 as more and more people become comfortable shopping online. Overall retail sales have also grown during this same time period, increasing from $723M to $1.47B.
  • 2020 has already set an all-time record for e-commerce, topping 14.3% of retail sales.
  • E-commerce increases even when the broader retail industry declines. From 2007 to 2008, the retail industry contracted from $1.01B to $910M and e-commerce still expanded from 3.5% to 3.6%.
  • The coronavirus pandemic is forcing more and more people to shift their shopping habits online instead of brick-and-mortar stores. Observers expect e-commerce to only accelerate in the years ahead.

We got the data on retail numbers directly from the US Census Bureau. Check out the bureau’s methodology for additional detail about what counts as a company in the retail industry, defined as a company that sells small goods to the public. We took Q4 results from the last 20 years of information to create an exploding sequenced pie chart, showing annual totals adjusted for inflation. For the sake of comparison, we took Q3 results for 2020. We then added another layer showing the relative growth of e-commerce as a portion of retail sales. The result is an intuitive snapshot of the last two decades in retail history.

The first and most obvious insight from our visual is how e-commerce accounts for an ever-increasing portion of all retail sales. Starting at only 0.6% in 1999 when most people still had reservations about making purchases over the Internet, e-commerce sales have increased every single year. The relentless uptick of e-commerce as a portion of retail has occurred every year regardless of what the broader retail industry is doing. From 2007 to 2008, for example, retail sales overall declined from $1.01B to $910M, and e-commerce still increased from 3.5% to 3.6%.

But our visualization also shows how overall retail sales are also growing. Except in the depths of the Great Recession from 2007 to 2008, retail sales have increased year-over-year since at least 1999, rising from $723M to $1.47B. This means that people are spending more money in the retail industry regardless of the sales channel.

The coronavirus pandemic has accelerated the rise of e-commerce. Our numbers for 2020 only run through the 3rd quarter, before the busiest shopping period leading to the holidays. 14.3% of retail sales are now occurring via e-commerce, and the lingering threat of COVID-19 suggests this number will only continue to go up. In fact, Amazon has hired over 427,000 people to answer the increased demand. There’s so much consumer demand that UPS is limiting how many packages they will handle for certain companies. It remains to be seen if the rapid shift to e-commerce marks a permanent shift in consumer behavior, but don’t be surprised if e-commerce tops 15% by the end of the year.

Are you buying more things over the Internet than before the coronavirus? Let us know in the comments.




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