Aug 22, 2020 - Economy

A quantum leap for e-commerce

Data: U.S. Census Bureau; Chart: Axios Visuals
Data: U.S. Census Bureau; Chart: Axios Visuals

The pandemic and lockdown significantly accelerated the rise of online commerce, compressing years of projected growth into a few months.

The big picture: Stuck at home for weeks on end, we turned to the internet and delivery to meet our consumer needs. That's been a boon for many tech companies, but it's not yet clear whether consumers will return to the real world once the pandemic ends.

By the numbers: Data released this week by the U.S. Census Bureau indicated that U.S. e-commerce retail sales for the second quarter of 2020 rose to $211.5 billion, up 31.8% from the first quarter and 44.5% from the same period last year.

  • E-commerce in the second quarter reached 16.1% of all retail sales, up from 11.8% in the previous quarter.
  • That means that as a share of total retail sales, e-commerce grew as much in three months as it had over the past five years combined.
  • In the U.K., which had a stricter lockdown than the U.S., e-commerce penetration was even greater.
  • The retailer Target experienced 195% year-on-year growth in its e-commerce sales in the second quarter, while Walmart nearly doubled its online sales.

What they're saying: "This was a time when the digital shopping shows what it is really capable of," Biju Dominic, chairman of FinalMile Consulting, said in a briefing on Thursday. "The question is whether this trend will continue after COVID."

The bottom line: Q2 2020 may be looked back upon as a lockdown aberration, but over the long run, more and more of our economic activity will migrate to the internet — just like the rest of our lives.

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