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The pandemic’s effects on nonstore and e-commerce retail sales

A temporary boost did not change the trend

The FRED Blog has discussed how the COVID-19 pandemic changed the sale volumes of different products, from groceries and alcohol to men’s clothing, sporting goods, pharmacies and drug stores. The social distancing required to manage the pandemic also impacted how people shopped, boosting online sales. Today, we compare nonstore and e-commerce retail sales to total sales to see if the boost to online sales was permanent or temporary.

The FRED graph above shows data from the U.S. Census about where consumers do their shopping. The blue line compares monthly nonstore retail sales (i.e., home delivery, TV or print catalog sales, and electronic shopping) with all other non-food, non-motor-vehicle retail sales. The red line compares quarterly retail sales over the internet with total retail sales. All data series are seasonally adjusted and presented as percent rates, or proportions.

The parallel rising trends of these data indicate that shopping over the internet and away from stores is gradually growing in popularity. The spike in distance shopping during the early months of the pandemic is very noticeable. However, the gradual decline afterward strongly suggests nonstore and e-commerce retail sales are back to trend and that the pandemic-related boost was temporary.

Although FRED doesn’t currently have any data to compare brick-and-mortar window shopping to internet browser window shopping, perusing “the shelves” in IDEAS yields multiple research papers on the topic. We invite you to try these on for size.

How this graph was created: Search for and select “Advance Retail Sales: Nonstore Retailers.” From the “Edit Graph” panel, use the “Add Line” tab to search for “Advance Retail Sales: Nonstore Retailers.” Remember to click “Add data series.” Next, use the “Edit Lines” tab to customize the data in line 2 by searching for and selecting: “Advance Retail Sales: Retail Trade and Food Services, Excluding Motor Vehicle and Parts Dealers,” “Advance Retail Sales: Food Services and Drinking Places,” and “Advance Retail Sales: Food and Beverage Stores.” Next, create a custom formula to combine the series by typing in (a/(b-c-d))*100 and clicking “Apply.”

Suggested by Diego Mendez-Carbajo.

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