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Despite increased e-commerce sales, third-quarter traditional sales were on par with those a year ago

by Michael Sivak, Sivak Applied Research.

In a recent article, I showed that, adjusted for population and inflation, e-commerce retail sales during the second quarter of 2020 increased by 43.3% compared with second-quarter sales of 2019. In comparison, traditional retail sales decreased by 10.1%. This brief study extends the analysis through the third quarter of 2020.

The raw data for the calculations were seasonally adjusted total and e-commerce retail sales (from the U.S. Census Bureau), population (also from the U.S. Census Bureau), and Consumer Price Index (from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics).

The table below shows the year-to-year changes for the first three quarters of 2020 in both e-commerce and traditional retail sales per capita, with both adjusted for inflation.

Quarter of 2020 Change from year ago
E-commerce sales Traditional sales
1st +11.9% -1.9%
2nd +43.3% -10.1%
3rd +34.4% +1.5%

The main findings are as follows:

  • The year-to-year increase in e-commerce retail sales was smaller during the third quarter of 2020 than during the second quarter of 2020 (34.4% vs. 43.3%).

  • Traditional retail sales during the third quarter of 2020 were virtually unchanged (an increase of 1.5%), after being down by 10.1% during the second quarter of 2020.

Consistent with the above two opposite trends, e-commerce sales during the third quarter of 2020 represented a smaller percentage of total sales than during the second quarter of 2020 (14.3% vs. 16.1%).

Michael Sivak is the managing director of Sivak Applied Research and the former director of Sustainable Worldwide Transportation at the University of Michigan.


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