New Government Data Highlights E-Commerce Trend in Distribution

E-commerce revenues for wholesaler-distributors grew 6.1% from 2011 to 2012.
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Wholesale revenues, excluding manufacturers’ sales branches and offices, included $989 billion in e-commerce sales in 2012, or 20.1 percent of the industry’s $4.9 trillion in wholesale revenues that year. That is an increase of 6.1 percent from 2011.

This is the first year that the U.S. Census Bureau has broken out e-commerce sales in its Annual Wholesale Trade Survey.

In 2011, e-commerce sales in wholesale trade were $932 billion, or 19.9 percent of total revenue, according to the report.

The government’s data lags by a year but still provides a window into the shifts in sales channels for wholesaler-distributors. In the latest issue of MDM Premium, Grainger's vice president of global e-commerce, Paul Miller, told me that he believes all sectors of distribution – no matter the product category – will be affected by e-commerce. “I don’t think there’s a single one you can point to and say it will never be influenced or be touched or have relevance created through online or digital,” he says.

Nondurable goods made up 56.7 percent of the total e-commerce revenues for wholesaler-distributors in 2012, according to the Census Bureau report, with groceries and related products the largest piece of that at 10.7 percent. Petroleum and petroleum products (4.2 percent), miscellaneous nondurable goods (3.4 percent) and apparel, piece goods and notions (3.4 percent) make up the other largest segments for e-commerce under the nondurable goods banner.

Durable goods made up 43.3 percent of the total e-commerce sales in wholesale trade. Motor vehicles and automotive equipment (15.3 percent) and professional and commercial equipment and supplies (10.4 percent) were the largest categories as a percent of the total e-commerce sales in wholesale trade. Electrical goods made up 8.5 percent of the total.

Here are some other interesting statistics uncovered by this report:

  • The largest year-over-year percent change in e-commerce sales happened in motor vehicles and automotive equipment, which increased 23.3 percent in 2012 to $151 billion.
  • The next largest increase in e-commerce sales was from machinery, equipment and supplies at 18.5 percent from 2011 to 2012.
  • The largest year-over-year decline in e-commerce happened in miscellaneous durable goods, with a 5.4 percent decline in 2012 from 2011.
  • The only other segment recording a decline was professional and commercial equipment and supplies, with a 2.6 percent fall from 2011 to 2012.

For a closer look at current trends in e-commerce in distribution, register for MDM’s upcoming webcast on The State of E-Commerce in Distribution in 2014, sponsored by NetSuite. This webcast will feature the results of MDM’s recent survey of readers on e-commerce trends in their businesses.

Also look for an article on that survey in an upcoming issue of MDM Premium.

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