If I were to mention Staples (as a company, not the little metal things) you might think of the bright white letters on a red background of their storefronts. You might think of the cute ‘easy’ buttons in their commercials. You might think about the sports center located just a short walk from where most of the contributors to this site work. What might not come to mind though is their being the nation’s second largest e-commerce firm.
When researching another post I came across Internet Retailer’s Top 500 list of e-commerce sites by sales. There they were with just under ten billion dollars in online sales in 2009. And it made me realize that the general narrative that we have about Internet commerce from the dot-com boom — of the scrappy e-commerce firms squaring off against the stodgy old physical stores — isn’t really accurate any more. The scrappy e-commerce seller and the big retail chain are more often as not one now.
I took the top 100 merchants and divided them by four categories:
Physical:Sites which were the online presence of a chain of physical stores such as Walmart.com, Costco.com, Staples.com and so forth.
Online: Sites which had no retail presence and whose primary means of selling is online like Amazon.com, Netflix.com, Newegg.com and so forth.
Channel: Sites that are not an extension of physical stores but are primarily associated with sales methods other than online. QVC, HSN, Amway, and Avon are some of these.
Brand: Sites that are associated with a particular brand of merchandise that allow direct online sales but are also available in retail stores and on other websites. Nike, Apple, Disney, and Sony are examples.
Top 100 Firms in Online Sales by Category
The physical stores have, by a slight margin, the largest share of online sales. That certainly runs against the idea of e-commerce firms giving the physical stores a run for their money. However the share of the chart of online-only firms is dominated by one player.
In other words apart from Amazon.com solely e-commerce firms represent only a small portion of total Internet sales.
In addition to removing the notion that there is a polar struggle between retailers and online sellers it also refutes another common conception: that online commerce is a field in its infancy. This data looks more like a mature marketplace with well-established participants.