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The Internet Has Passed Brick-And-Mortar Retail Sales For The First Time Ever

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Online shopping, e-commerce

It was a long time coming, but the shopping revolution has officially anointed its new leader.

The Department of Commerce retail sales report for February found that, for the first time, online purchases took up a larger percentage of all sales than general merchandise, CNBC reports. General merchandise excludes automobile and parts sales as well as food, beverage and restaurant transactions.

Non-store sales, as the Commerce Department calls online shopping, took up 11.813% of all U.S. sales in February, compared to 11.807% accounted for by general merchandise. Overall, retail sales decreased 0.2% from January, though the February total is a projection that could be corrected in the March report. 

Even if the razor-thin margin is negated next month, e-commerce surpassing in-store sales is a moment that has been building since Amazon began growing beyond a bookseller — before 2000, online sales only took a 5% piece of the pie. But as they overtake brick-and-mortar, online retailers are also seeking to join the physical ranks in greater numbers, led by Amazon itself.

Leaving aside its ownership of Whole Foods, Amazon has been pushing into physical retail space on multiple fronts. It reportedly has thousands of locations planned for the cashierless Amazon Go convenience store, slowly growing its Amazon Books and 4-Star offshoots all the while. Both the do-everything titan and more specific online-only retailers, such as Warby Parker or UNTUCKit, recognize that physical locations are a key component in maintaining an online brand's prominence in the consumer's mind.

That online retailers have gone from competition to potential tenants has given many industry speculators reason to remain optimistic about brick-and-mortar's future. If further decline in overall sales occurs, it will be more difficult to find a silver lining.