Marking another milestone in the rise of e-commerce in the United States, the U.S. Census Bureau
reported this week that nonstore retail sales, which largely comprise of online sales these days, surpassed general merchandise store sales (incl. department stores, warehouse clubs, and supercenters) for the first time in February. While some news outlets mistakenly reported that nonstore retail surpassed all brick-and-mortar stores (it didn’t!), this still shows how large online retail has become over the years.
Before the advent of e-commerce, i.e. in the early 1990s, nonstore retail sales, including mail order, door-to-door and teleshopping sales for example, amounted to less than a third of general merchandise store sales. By 2005, the latter were still twice as large as nonstore retail sales, but over the past decade, online shopping has really taken off. Despite the latest milestone, e-commerce sales still account for no more than roughly 10 percent of total retail sales
in the United States, illustrating that the “Retail Apocalypse” isn’t as close as some might think.
The following chart shows how nonstore retail sales have grown over the years, surpassing grocery store
sales for the first time in December 2017 and now leaving behind general merchandise store sales as well.