Intelligent Investment

What Is the Share of E-Commerce in Overall Retail Sales?

Understanding how retailers count online and in-store purchases is key

May 16, 2022 4 Minute Read


E-commerce is driving rapid transformation in the retail sector, but there is little consensus on what percentage of retail sales occur online. Depending on sources and methodology, the share of e-commerce can vary anywhere from 14% to more than 20%. Below is an overview of core definitions and key e-commerce statistics on sales and market share.

E-Commerce Sales

Figure 1: Total E-Commerce Sales and Growth Rates

ecommshares-figure1-web3Source: U.S. Census Bureau, Quarterly E-Commerce Report, CBRE Research Q1 2022.

E-commerce sales totaled $871 billion in 2021 and have been growing at an average of 16% annually since 2011, with 2020 growth increasing by 32%. The main source for national retail e-commerce figures is the U.S. Census Bureau, which collects the data by asking retailers to report the volume of sales made online.

What is Included in the Census Bureau’s E-Commerce Sales Figures?

E-commerce is defined as sales of goods and services through digital channels (internet, mobile device, etc.). E-commerce sales include internet sales of pure-play e-tailers (retailers that operate solely online) and the online sales of brick-and-mortar brands (i.e. a purchase made through a physical store brand’s website). Not included in these e-commerce sales is revenue from online travel services, financial brokers and ticket sales agencies.

Measurement Challenges

One of the major challenges to measuring e-commerce is that many retailers count online and in-store sales differently. If an order is placed online and is picked up in-store, some retailers consider the transaction an e-commerce sale while others classify it as a physical store sale, depending on whether the retailer has a separate e-commerce division. For example, retailers such as Macy’s have a separate e-commerce arm for accounting purposes. Their buy-online-pickup-in-store (BOPIS) sales will typically count as online sales. Retailers that do not have a separate arm for their online business will likely count BOPIS sales as in-store purchases. Because the industry has not set a standard of measurement for what defines an online versus in-store sale, it is difficult to obtain a fully accurate picture of the distinction between digital and physical channel sales.

E-Commerce as a Share of Retail Sales

There are three ways to capture e-commerce penetration. The first way is comparing total e-commerce sales (Figure 1) to total retail sales, which includes sales across all categories. Using this method, the e-commerce share of total retail sales was 11.8% in 2021 (Figure 2).

The second way is to exclude restaurant sales in overall retail sales, which increases 2021 e-commerce penetration to 13.2%. Lastly, if we further exclude motor vehicle, parts dealers and gas, that figure jumps to 17.2%. Depending on the definition, the ranges are quite large.

Figure 2: E-Commerce as a Share of Total Sales


Source: U.S. Census Bureau, 2018.

Outside of the official government statistics, third-party sources may issue e-commerce sales and share estimates based on other methodologies, such as qualitative consumer surveys. When comparing different e-commerce sales and share figures, it’s critical to understand exactly what is and isn’t included in both the e-commerce and overall retail sales data to obtain the most relevant measurement of e-commerce for your business.

Insights in Your Inbox

Stay up to date on relevant trends and the latest research.

Retail Insights

Timely research and analysis that shed light on the exciting changes and opportunities in the dynamic retail sector.

Related Services

  • Keep up with the rapid evolution of retail by rethinking your store footprints, reworking your supply chains, and reevaluating the ways consumers enga...

  • Property Type

    Retail Services

    With integrated solutions, unique insight, and unmatched experience, we deliver successful outcomes for retailers, restaurateurs, investors, owners, a...