The Census Bureau of the US Department of Commerce announced on August 18 that U.S. retail e-commerce sales for the second quarter of 2020, adjusted for seasonal variation, was $211.5 billion, an increase of 31.8 percent from the first quarter of 2020. Total retail sales for the second quarter of 2020 were estimated at $1,311.0 billion, a decrease of 3.9 percent from the first quarter of 2020. The second quarter 2020 e-commerce estimate increased 44.5 percent from the second quarter of 2019 while total retail sales decreased 3.6 percent in the same period (cf. detailed figures in the table below).
Thanks to this spectacular growth, e-commerce sales accounted for 16.1 percent of total retail sales in the second quarter of 2020 up from 11.8 percent of retail sales in the first quarter of the year. This “quantum leap” is unprecedented. It shows the tremendous impact the COVID-19 pandemic had on consumption patterns amid enforced lockdowns and social distanciation measures. The Quarterly Retail E-Commerce sales estimate for the third quarter of 2020 is scheduled for release on November 19, it will provide interesting clues on whether the impact of the pandemic on consumption patterns is akin to a “ratchet effect” for consumption habits or whether there will be a reversion to offline consumption patterns. In any case, the unprecedented increase in personal precautionary savings in 1H 2020 should support both online and offline retail sales in 2H 2020 as the pent-up consumer demand is gradually released.
Other economies around the world have also reported increases in online retail sales in the first half of the year, albeit in a less spectacular fashion than the US figures. According to forecasts by eMarketer, the growth rate of Global retail ecommerce sales will decelerate to 16.5% in 2020 (down from 20.2% last year) to reach a total of $3.914 trillion. In China, online retail sales reached 5.15 trillion yuan (about 736.7 billion U.S. dollars) in the first half of 2020, up 7.3 percent year on year, according to the Ministry of Commerce (MOC), amid a slump in total retail sales. It should be noted however that the transition to online sales is more advanced in China, as they already represented more than 20% of total retail sales in 2019.