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  • Charting Over 20 Years of Retail Sales and E-Commerce in the U.S. Retail Industry (Update)

Charting Over 20 Years of Retail Sales and E-Commerce in the U.S. Retail Industry (Update)

The coronavirus pandemic is once again causing new widespread business lockdowns. 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

  • 2020 set an all-time record for e-commerce growing to $788M and topping 14% of all retail sales.
  • E-commerce increases even when the broader retail industry declines. From 2008 to 2009, the retail industry contracted from $3.93T to $3.61T and e-commerce still expanded.
  • 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 results from the last 20 years to create an exploding sequenced pie chart, showing annual totals adjusted for inflation. 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 0.9% in 2000 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.

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 2000, rising from $2.98T to $5.62T. 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. Retail sales grew from $5.45T to $5.62T over the last two years, and the percentage attributable to e-commerce rose likewise rose from 10.9% to 14.0%. The lingering threat of COVID-19 suggests this number will only continue to go up. In fact, Amazon 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 2021.

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

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