Online Shopping Statistics, Overstated and Misreported

Articles that claim online commerce have surpassed sales at brick and mortar stores are wrong, according to an article on City Observatory.

1 minute read

November 8, 2016, 6:00 AM PST

By Casey Brazeal @northandclark


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Frank Gaertner / Shutterstock

Online sales, or e-commerce, has grown rapidly in the past few years, but widely published assertions that they represent half of all retail sales are simply not true, according to a story by Joe Cortright. Cortright cites stories in Next City and Fortune that claim internet sales have surpassed those from brick and mortar stores, Cortright cites data from the Census Bureau that directly contradicts those stories, "E-commerce retail sales in the second quarter of 2016 were $97 billion, equal to about 8.1 percent of total retail sales in the U.S." This is not a difference that could be explained away as the natural variance between two studies. It's a difference in kind.

In tracking down the source of these statistics, Cortright came across an online study of frequent, avid online shoppers that specifically sought out heavy users of online shopping to investigate their perspectives.

The fallout of this growing misunderstanding of physical retail can have large implications for planners. Retailers are the crossroads of our cities and towns. They make our cities worth walking through. If they're being replaced, we need to know. Trends in retail become trends for cities, but exaggerating that process is counterproductive.

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