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Internet sales strategy in the Retail Sales Inquiry following the UK Statistics Authority assessment 2011


UK Statistical Authority Assessment of Retail Sales Inquiry1

Published January 2011.  Requirement 4 states:

  • Publish a plan to review the data sources and methods used to produce the experimental statistics, to ensure that they are produced to a level of quality that meets users’ needs (para 3.11). 


Sales made over the internet are an important and evolving part of the retail sector and there are clear benefits in an official monthly estimate.

On Thursday 18 December 2008, the Office for National Statistics (ONS) first released its estimate of internet retail sales as a percentage of total retail sales2.

The underlying data had been calculated for 34 large businesses as part of the Monthly Commodity Inquiry and then 89 small and medium businesses from a small pilot survey.

From March 2009 an additional question was added to the Retail Sales Inquiry (RSI) monthly questionnaire (copies may be found in Annex 1) which goes to approximately 5,000 retailers and collects internet retail turnover from businesses.

This statistic is classed as experimental as the methods used to calculate it were undergoing development. 

What we currently publish

ONS publishes an estimate of average weekly internet sales for all retailing in pounds million and as a percentage of all retailing on a monthly basis.

Whilst the series starts in November 2006 a consistent data series is only available from March 2009.

Also available from ONS is the value of internet retail sales by United Kingdom businesses with 10 or more employees as part of the outputs from the annual e-commerce and ICT survey3

The way forward

An RSI User Engagement Day4 was held on 1 March 2011, where a key item on the agenda was user feedback on the current and future RSI work plan.

In summary, users acknowledged RSI as a comprehensive data source for internet sales but identified the development of a seasonally adjusted volume index of internet retail sales as one of their key requirements for retail sales statistics.

In the short term they would like to see a split of internet sales into categories similar to those in shop retailing.   

Short-term strategy

Following feedback at the User Engagement Day the following strategy has been agreed.

Develop and publish a table showing pounds thousands data for internet retail spend broken down into the following categories:
  • all retailing (excluding automotive fuel)
  • predominantly food stores

  • predominantly non-food stores

  • non-store 

  • non-specialised stores

  • other non-food stores

  • household goods stores

  • textile, clothing and footwear stores


1 UK Statistics Authority assessments (report no. 80) 

2 Estimate of internet retail sales as a percentage of total retail sales 

3 E-commerce and ICT survey 

4 RSI user engagement day  
Delivery of this strategy is dependent on disclosure testing, if found to be non-disclosive this will be delivered in the 2011/12 financial year. 

Medium-term strategy

Investigate, develop and publish a value index with accompanying growth rates. 

Long-term strategy

This includes the production of a seasonally adjusted volume internet retail sales index.

To provide a seasonally adjusted series a minimum of three years consistent data is needed.

The development of a volume index is more complicated as there is a need for appropriate prices to use as deflators.

Further work in this area will be taken forward in conjunction with the Prices Division at ONS.

A detailed plan to deliver this long term strategy will be developed and published at a later date.

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