Department of Commerce Releases E-Sales Numbers

SAN FRANCISCO (03/03/2000) - Trying to keep tabs on the Internet Economy, the U.S. Department of Commerce's Census Bureau Thursday released its first set of e-commerce numbers, reporting that online retail sales were $5.3 billion for the fourth quarter of 1999.

This total is slightly low compared to industry analyst estimates ranging from $4 billion to $13 billion for the same period. Department of Commerce Secretary William Daley noted that e-commerce is a tiny fraction, 0.64 percent, of total U.S. retail sales. Although e-commerce has yet to become a major retail sales channel, a significant number of companies are experimenting with it.

Daley described the release of these numbers as "a new benchmark - the first government indicator of the new economy." He acknowledged that while the department's measurement of e-commerce is the largest survey of U.S. retailers, it's still not ideal. Sales of online services - such as travel and financial services - are not counted, and any order placed online - rather than actual transactions - is included.

The department tracks e-commerce sales by U.S. companies, while many industry analysts examine the expenditures within a given country - making the study less comparable to many existing measures of e-commerce. But by early 2001, the department hopes to have solid numbers, working out remaining methodological issues. Retail e-commerce will continue to be reported quarterly, rather going out on a monthly basis like the release of total retail sales.

Daley also took the opportunity to send a stern warning on privacy. "Unless companies act to protect privacy soon, the government will have to step in," he said. The Department of Commerce is already working in cooperation with the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) and the European Union on consumer privacy initiatives.

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