Is E-Commerce Really Crushing Brick-And-Mortar Sales?

Nov. 21, 2017 5:11 AM ETXLY, XRT, VCR, RTH, RETL, FDIS, FXD, RCD, PMR, ISHP, CNDF, EMTY, JHMC2 Comments
Wolf Richter profile picture
Wolf Richter

Some big sectors are still resisting.

There is one sector in retail that is seriously booming: E-commerce sales in the third quarter jumped 15.5% from a year ago, to $115 billion seasonally adjusted, a new record, according to the Commerce Department this morning. This includes online sales by brick-and-mortar retailers. Over the same period, total retail sales increased 4.3%. And retail sales without e-commerce - an approximation for brick-and-mortar sales - ticked up only 3.1%, barely staying ahead of 2% inflation and 0.8% population growth.

The chart below shows the e-commerce sales boom on a quarterly basis (seasonally adjusted). Note the beating during the Great Recession. Not even e-commerce is recession proof. It was sharp. People just stopped clicking on the "buy" button. But it was short. By Q3 2009, e-commerce was setting records again:

But how much of a danger is e-commerce to brick-and-mortar retail? Many observers keep pointing out that e-commerce accounts for only a tiny part of total retail sales. And that's true. While growing rapidly, the numbers are still relatively small. In the third quarter, the e-commerce share of total retail was still just 9.1%, but that's up from 8.2% a year ago.

The chart below shows brick-and-mortar retail sales (defined as total retail minus e-commerce) and e-commerce sales. Note the long beating that brick-and-mortar retail took during the Great Recession, starting in Q2 2008, from which it didn't recover until Q2 2011:

So is the "crushing" effect of e-commerce on brick-and-mortar overblown?

Not quite. There are several large brick-and-mortar sectors that are still considered "online-proof" or "e-commerce resistant." They're able to resist the encroachment of e-commerce because of the physical nature of their merchandise, state franchise laws that protect dealers, ingrained consumer preferences, and other factors. They are:

  • New- and used-vehicle dealers and auto-parts retailers: 21% of total

This article was written by

Wolf Richter profile picture
Wolf Richter is the publisher of, a site focused on business, finance, and money. The site is free. In addition to the many years at and its predecessor site, he has 20 years of C-level operations and finance experience.

Recommended For You

Comments (2)

To ensure this doesn’t happen in the future, please enable Javascript and cookies in your browser.
Is this happening to you frequently? Please report it on our feedback forum.
If you have an ad-blocker enabled you may be blocked from proceeding. Please disable your ad-blocker and refresh.