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Frequently asked questions


Question: Will you release seasonally adjusted e-commerce sales estimates?

Answer: It will take several years to have enough historical e-commerce sales data to allow us to determine seasonal patterns.
Question: Are foreign sales included in the e-commerce estimate?

Answer: The e-commerce and total sales estimates include sales covering all store and non-store retail locations in the United States operated by a firm selected in the survey. Sales made to a customer in a foreign country through a U.S. web site are included in the estimates.

Question: How are gift certificates treated?

Answer: Following generally accepted accounting principles, sales from gift certificates are included in the retail sales of firms at the time the gift certificate is redeemed.

Question: How are returns of merchandise treated?
Answer: Firms are instructed to report sales net of returned merchandise.

Question: How are businesses selected for the monthly survey?

Answer: Businesses are categorized by their industrial activity and size. Within each of these groups, the Census Bureau selects a random sample of firms. Each quarter, new businesses undergo a similar procedure, and additional sampling units are selected and added to the survey. This methodology ensures that the sample contains businesses of all sizes and from each retail industry.

Question: How many firms are surveyed to estimate e-commerce sales?

Answer: E-commerce sales are estimated based on the monthly activity of over 12,000 retail firms. All firms that receive the retail survey report form each month are asked to provide their e-commerce sales.
Question: Are sales at electronic auctions included in the e-commerce estimate?

Answer: Electronic auctions directed at individual consumers are classified as retail trade. However, commissions and fees,not sales, are included in the e-commerce estimate. This is similar to the way the Census Bureau treats sales at traditional auction houses.

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