Nearly two decades after the Web revolutionized shopping, many big retailers are still struggling to turn the Internet into a big part of their business. Their progress is on display in new correspondence between the Securities and Exchange Commission and a bevy of chains, including Target
Corp., TGT +0.75%Wal-Mart Stores
Inc., WMT +0.21%PetSmart
Inc. PETM +1.28%
and Fifth & Pacific
Cos. FNP +1.34%
In the correspondence, the SEC asks the companies—which frequently tout their online prowess—to provide hard details about the amount of goods they sell online.
Such details remain scant across the retail industry, even though they are a big focus for investors. In the second quarter, Internet sales increased 18.4% from a year earlier, while total retail sales rose by 4.7%, Commerce Department data show.
Target, for instance, has highlighted its online performance, telling investors last week that its digital sales have grown by double-digit percentages and that it is "moving quickly to ensure we stay relevant in an increasingly digital marketplace."
Asked by the SEC to quantify its online results, the discount retailer said in June that "digital sales represented an immaterial amount of total sales."
Target acknowledges that it is still adjusting to consumers spending more online, but says its strategy is to book sales whatever the channel, so it doesn't need to break out its Internet business.
The company is one of about a dozen retailers queried recently by the SEC. The agency is concerned that retailers are hyping their Web prowess by claiming high percentage growth rates while failing to disclose how much that growth affects total sales.
What is clear from many of the answers is that the absolute figures are still relatively small.
Inc. AMZN +3.48%
sells more online than its next 12 biggest competitors combined, including Staples
Inc. SPLS +0.68%
and Wal-Mart, according to the trade publication Internet Retailer. Despite its greater online scale, Amazon continues to grow quickly and command a hefty share of new Internet sales. Its 30% increase in North American sales in the second quarter outstripped the overall e-commerce market and some competitors as well.