Retail e-commerce data show a dramatic shift online by category over 20-plus years — but nearly as insightful is how the picture is pieced together from U.S. Census Bureau data.
The e-commerce data bring together three distinct sources:
- Quarterly data for total e-commerce sales. Provide the e-commerce total sales numbers shown in the first graphic. This data for the prior quarter are released every February, May, August, and November.
- Annual “E-Stats” data by category and channel. Provide a way to break out the e-commerce sales and growth by category as shown in the second and third graphics. This data are typically released in May with a one-year lag.
- Monthly retail trade report data. An understanding of the quarterly and annual e-commerce data provide a way to calculate monthly e-commerce estimates, as is done in the view here.
A key question is: What is an e-commerce sale? For this data, it is any order placed online—but the payment may or may not be made online. So pickup orders are technically an e-commerce sale. See the Census Bureau FAQs here.