8501.0.55.007 - Information Paper: Measurement of Online Retail Trade in Macroeconomic Statistics, 2013  
ARCHIVED ISSUE Released at 11:30 AM (CANBERRA TIME) 19/08/2013  First Issue
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Online retail trade is a current topic of discussion within the Australian community. Interest centres on the size and growth of online retail trade as well as its performance relative to traditional store-based retail trade.

This information paper explains where online retail trade activity is currently included in ABS macroeconomic statistics and describes enhancements to improve measurement and coverage of online retail trade activity in both retail trade statistics and the wider macroeconomic accounts.


The Australian and New Zealand Standard Industrial Classification (ANZSIC) defines ‘retail trade’ as “the purchase and onselling, commission-based buying, and commission-based selling of goods, without significant transformation, to the general public”. This broad definition includes the sale of goods to the general public using non-traditional means, including the internet.

Online retail trade may be defined according to the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) definition of e-commerce. Using this definition, an electronic transaction is the sale of goods and/or services which are ordered via the Internet or any other computer-mediated network. This applies regardless of whether the payment and/or the ultimate delivery of the goods and/or services is conducted online or offline. Therefore, all retail trade activity where the commitment to purchase is made online may be considered to be online retail trade activity, irrespective of the method of payment and/or delivery used.

Other descriptions of online retail trade have also emerged to distinguish between different forms of online retail trade. Retailers who trade with consumers solely via an online store, and have no physical store, are commonly referred to as ‘pure-play’ online retailers. Similarly, retailers who combine a physical store with other non-traditional means such as catalogues, mail-order, telephone-order and/or an online store, are commonly referred to as ‘multi-channel’ retailers.


The overarching conceptual framework for all ABS macroeconomic statistics is the System of National Accounts. Online retail trade activity is conceptually included in several places in macroeconomic accounts. Specifically:

  • Online retail sales by Australian resident retailers should be included in estimates of the gross value added by the Retail Trade industry in the production measure of Gross Domestic Product (GDP);
  • Online retail purchases by Australian resident consumers should be included in estimates of Household Final Consumption Expenditure in the expenditure measure of GDP; and
  • Online retail purchases by Australian resident consumers from non-resident retailers overseas should be included in estimates of imports (and vice-versa for exports) in both the international trade statistics and the Balance of Payments accounts.

At present, the main ABS publications which capture online retail trade activity are Retail Trade, Australia (cat. no. 8501.0), which includes online retail sales by Australian resident retailers, and International Merchandise Imports, Australia (cat. no. 5439.0), which includes imports of high-value goods purchased online from non-resident retailers overseas.