Saturday, May 15, 2004

A Perfect Market

According to America's Department of Commerce, online retail sales in the world's biggest market last year rose by 26%, to $55 billion. That sounds a lot of money, but it amounts to only 1.6% of total retail sales. The vast majority of people still buy most things in the good old "bricks-and-mortar" world.

But the commerce department's figures deal with only part of the retail industry. For instance, they exclude online travel services, ticket-sales pharmacies....

And there is more. The commerce department's figures include the fees earned by internet auction sites, but not the value of goods that are sold: an astonishing $24 billion-worth of trade was done last year on eBay, the biggest online auctioneer. Nor, by definition, do they include the billions of dollars-worth of goods bought and sold by businesses connecting to each other over the internet. Some of these B2B services are proprietary; for example, Wal-Mart tells its suppliers that they must use its own system if they want to be part of its annual turnover of $250 billion.

So e-commerce is already very big, and it is going to get much bigger. But the actual value of transactions currently concluded online is dwarfed by the extraordinary influence the internet is exerting over purchases carried out in the offline world. That influence is becoming an integral part of e-commerce.

Source: The Economist