Why don’t we know the true scale of Irish online sales?

CSO’s retail sales gauge doesn’t include overseas activity by the likes of Amazon

It's hard to believe that our gauge on retail sales still doesn't include the bulk of transactions that are taking place online. But we're not alone. Most countries can only guess at how much activity is taking place via the internet.

Data collection agencies like our own Central Statistics Office (CSO) don't have the right to ask companies like Amazon, which reside outside of their jurisdictions, for turnover numbers. Amazon's annual revenue for 2021 came to just under $470 billion (€416 billion). Hence the monthly retail numbers reflect only the traditional offline, bricks and mortar transactions and the online transactions of, in this case, Irish-based retailers.

The latter, according to the CSO, accounted for 6.5 per cent of retail sales in December. It was 3-4 per cent prior to Covid. At the peak of lockdown, in April 2020, it grew to 15 per cent. When car sales, fuel and bar sales are excluded, the share of online retail sales in December 2019 was 6.6 per cent. This figure increased to 22.7 per cent of total sales in April 2020 during the first lockdown.

However, the totality of ecommerce is still a guessing game.


The surge in An Post parcel deliveries tells us that the area has mushroomed in size. Increased online shopping, sparked by Covid restrictions, boosted An Post parcel deliveries by 100 per cent in 2020, and by 300 per cent in the run-up to Christmas. The State company expects the parcels business to grow 15 per cent in 2021 and at the same rate thereafter. It aims to increase revenues to €1 billion a year over the next five years largely through tapping into the surge in ecommerce. There may be a way of getting at the size of this sector through the balance of payments data, collated as part of the CSO's national accounts, but as yet no-one has attempted it. So the true scale of ecommerce in the State remains a matter of conjecture.