Economy Watch: E-Commerce Sales Continue to Surge

For each quarter of the last four, Internet-based sales have grown by double digits compared with the year before, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.
Image via Flickr Creative Commons user Intel Free Press
Image via Flickr Creative Commons user Intel Free Press

U.S. e-commerce retail sales for the fourth quarter of 2017 totaled $119 billion, an increase of 3.2 percent compared with the third quarter, the Census Bureau reported on Feb 16. Compared with the same quarter in 2016, e-commerce sales were up 16.9 percent, and for all of 2017, such sales were up 16 percent compared with full-year 2016.

For each quarter of the last four, Internet-based sales have grown by double digits compared with the year before—a pattern that goes back some years. And the growth of Internet-based sales has far outpaced total retail sales at the end of 2017. Total retail sales for the fourth quarter of 2017 were estimated at $1,304.3 billion, an increase of 2.7 percent from third-quarter 2017 and a jump of 5.7 percent from fourth-quarter 2016.

E-commerce sales in the fourth quarter of 2017 accounted for 9.1 percent of total sales. As recently as the first quarter of 2008, e-commerce sales were only about 3.5 percent of total retail sales. Since then, the percentage has been steadily growing. By five years ago, or the first quarter of 2013, e-commerce was about 5 percent of all retail sales, and as of a year ago, about 8.5 percent.

The bureau adjusts these numbers of for seasonal variation, but not for price changes. According to the bureau, e-commerce sales are sales of goods and services where the buyer places an order, or the price and terms of the sale are negotiated over an Internet, mobile device (M-commerce), extranet, Electronic Data Interchange (EDI) network, electronic mail, or other comparable online system.