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Online Shopping Outpaces In-Store Sales for the First Time

Samantha McDonald

According to the Commerce Department, the total market share of “non-store” sales, also known as online retail sales, has exceeded in-store sales for the first time in United States history.

The report, which was released early this week, showed data obtained in February, finding that online purchases accounted for 11.813 percent of retail sales — slightly topping the 11.807 percent for general merchandise at brick-and-mortar stores. (Physical store sales still had the advantage when factoring in the food and automobile categories.)

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It’s a narrow lead, but sales for the online sector have been steadily rising in the past couple decades, with the latest figure marking a pivotal moment for e-commerce players. The Commerce Department shared that non-store sales had climbed from below 5 percent in the late 1990s to about 12 percent this year. It is now the fourth largest sector, fetching $59.8 billion in adjusted sales for the month of February.

E-commerce giant Amazon has contributed to a majority of that growth. The Seattle-based company has not only expanded its brick-and-mortar presence through its bookstores and 4-Star stores, but also boasts more than 100 million Prime members around the world. In January, it became the world’s most valuable public company, with a market capitalization of $796.8 billion.

Overall, retail sales dipped 0.2 percent in February to $506 billion — an unexpected drop in consumer spending. Sales in clothing and accessories stores slid 0.4 percent during the month and 0.5 percent from the prior year, while sporting goods stores were up 0.5 percent month over month but down 8.2 percent over February 2018. Department stores recorded sales that declined to $12.03 billion as Sears, J.C. Penney and other chains continued to reduce their physical footprints.

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