In its quarterly report on estimated e-commerce retail sales released today, the U.S. Census Bureau said that adjusted online sales jumped 15.6% year-over-year in the fourth quarter of 2012. On an unadjusted basis, sales rose 15.8%.
Adjusted e-commerce sales of $59.5 billion comprised 5.4% of total retail sales of $1.1 trillion. That is the highest percentage since the Census Bureau started keeping track of online sales in the fourth quarter of 1999, when e-commerce retail sales were just 0.6% of total retail sales. The fourth-quarter total is also the highest since 1999.
For the full year, e-commerce sales totaled $225.5 billion, up 15.8% from 2011. Total retail sales rose 5% year-over-year.
One question we might consider is the impact of more states forcing online retailers like Amazon.com Inc. (NASDAQ: AMZN) to collect sales taxes. Online retailers that already have a physical presence in a state have had to collect sales taxes just as if a consumer had walked into a bricks-and-mortar store. Retailers like Best Buy Co. Inc. (NYSE: BBY), Wal-Mart Stores Inc. (NYSE: WMT) and Target Corp. (NYSE: TGT) that have been paying sales tax on e-commerce sales have been unaffected by the new collection efforts, but they probably have not been helped much by it either.
The growth in online retail sales is three times faster than overall retail sales growth, and while online sales are not likely to catch up anytime soon, retailers that do not have significant online sales are missing a major opportunity for growth.
The Census Bureau’s report is available here.