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The US Department of Commerce cites three key reasons for decreasing overall distribution sales in the first half of 2023: high inflation, cautious business buyers and a softer economy. But B2B ecommerce continues to accelerate.

U.S. distributors are now through the middle part of the year, and the slowing economy is impacting sales.

Distribution sales in the first half of 2023

Overall, distribution sales in June dropped year over year to $643.8 billion. That’s down about 6.7% from $689.4 billion the previous year, based on data from the U.S. Department of Commerce. Despite growing in January and February, U.S. distribution sales for the first half of the year also decreased. They’re down 2.1% to $3.964 trillion, from $4.048 billion in the period January through June 2022.

High inflation, cautious business buyers and a softer economy are the main reasons the Department of Commerce cites for decreasing overall distribution sales in the first half of 2023.

But even as total sales through the first half of the year are slowing, there is one area where distributor activity is accelerating: B2B ecommerce.


Consider these examples from the big public distribution companies in the second quarter of 2023:

W.W. Grainger. The company’s High Touch business grew to $3.355 billion. That’s up 10% year over year from $3.053 billion. The business segment includes full-service sales through the company’s U.S. flagship Grainger.com, Canada-based Grainger.ca, and its sales agents.

Watsco Inc. In the last 12 months, Watsco has spent more than $50 million on new investments in mostly digital technology, the company says.

Global Industrial. Ecommerce now accounts for 60% of all Global Industrial sales transactions.

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