EasyExport Insights™

How Accurate Is the Data We Use? – EasyExport Insights™ Monthly Analysis

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How Accurate Is the Data We Use?

As purveyors of information based on data collected by someone else, we want to understand the integrity of the data. As users of the information, you probably care about data integrity, too.

There are two potential categories of errors that can cause the data to mislead. One is “sampling error,” which refers to possible errors in the sample used to calculate totals. Sampling error should not be a factor because the U.S. Census Bureau data we use is based on a complete count of all exports, not a sample.

“Non-sampling errors” also are possible. The Census Bureau believes the four most significant potential sources of non-sampling error include “reporting errors, undocumented shipments, timeliness and data capture errors, and errors in the estimation of low-valued transactions.”

The Census Bureau describes these non-sampling errors as follows:

  • Reporting Errors: Reporting errors are mistakes or omissions made by . . . exporters or their agents in their . . .  export declarations. Most errors involve missing or invalid commodity classification codes and missing or incorrect quantities or shipping weights. They have a negligible effect on . . .  export and balance of trade statistics. However, they can affect the detailed commodity statistics. [Our emphasis]
  • Undocumented Shipments: Federal regulations require . . . exporters or their agents to report all merchandise shipments above established exemption levels. The U. S. Census Bureau has determined that not all required documents are filed, particularly for exports.
  • Timeliness and Data Capture Errors: The U.S. Census Bureau captures . . . export information from administrative documents and through various automated collection programs. Documents may be lost, data may be incorrectly keyed, coded or recorded. Transactions may be included in a subsequent month’s statistics if received late.
  • Low-Value Shipments: The total values of transactions valued as much as or below $2,500 for exports . . . are estimated for each country, using factors based on the ratios of low-valued shipments to individual country totals for past periods.

(Source: definition of “Sampling and Non-Sampling Errors” here). A more detailed discussion of possible errors affecting the data can be found at “U.S. Merchandise Trade Statistics: A Quality Profile.”

At EasyExport Insights, we believe that (i) reporting errors and (ii)inaccurate estimates of low-value shipments are likely to be more significant issues than undocumented shipments and errors relating to timeliness and data capture.

Here’s why:

  • Reporting Errors: The data we present in our reports is based on 10-digit Schedule B numbers. From our experience assigning Schedule B numbers to firearm products and our conversations with other export compliance professionals, we know there are situations in which experienced compliance professionals handle the same situation differently.

Semi-automatic ARs are a good example. The same exact gun can be shipped to commercial end users, private security, exterminators (in New Zealand, for instance), local or territorial police, national police and military end users. As shown below, there are two potentially applicable Schedule B numbers, 9303.30.7010 and 9301.90.3000 and we suspect there may not be a consistent approach within the industry for deciding which of these two Schedule B number to use in each of the different situations:

Sporting Rifles Exports 1

Other product categories in which uncertainty as to the proper classification could affect the accuracy of our numbers include the following:

Sporting Rifles Exports 2

We suspect that reporting inconsistencies within the industry in these areas have more than a negligible influence on the accuracy of the numbers reported in the above categories, but not enough influence to interfere significantly with their usefulness.

  • Low Value Shipments: The extent to which unreported low value shipments affect the statistics in some of the product categories on which we report is a fascinating area to which we expect to return over and over in the future.

The Census Bureau has a system for estimating the value of unreported low value shipments. The system is described in detail here. Based on the methodology it uses, the Census Bureau estimates that 2.5% of exports are not recorded because the shipment value is too low to require reporting. (See definition of Low-Value Shipments). An adjustment of that percentage is built into the data we use.

But is 2.5% the right adjustment factor to use? We suspect it’s low in some categories, such as the ones covering parts for rifles, shotguns and handguns. In other words, we think actual exports in those categories may be higher than published data suggests. Our suspicion is only a hunch, but we intend to follow-up as more data becomes available to us. We will share our conclusions with you.

View: EasyExport Insights June 2020
EasyExport Insights June 2020.pdf

Understanding Our Reports – EasyExport Insights™ Monthly Analysis

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EasyExport Insights provides actionable information to U.S. exporters to help them grow their international sales.

EasyExport Insights reports are derived from data collected by the U.S. Government and published monthly by the U.S. Census Bureau. Data is released about 35 days after the close of a month. This month’s reports reflect data through May 31, 2020, which was released on July 2. The issue of EasyExport Insights we release in August will cover the month of June 2020.

The Government collects the data via Electronic Export Information (EEI) filings exporters submit at the time of export. EEI filings group products into categories identified by what are known as “Schedule B numbers.” Most product categories in our reports include a single Schedule B number; in four instances, we believe more meaningful information is provided by combining data for two Schedule B numbers.

Our Spotlight reports also incorporate data published by the U.S. International Trade Administration and output from a market diversification tool that is available at the International Trade Administration website.

Grow Your Exports reports, available only to EasyExport customers, combine proprietary EasyExport data with publicly available data to identify opportunities for growth. Monthly Grow Your Exports reports are included with EasyExport subscriptions.

More information about the sources of our data is available in the Sources of our Data section at the back of this report.

Report Formats

Our Monthly Export Reports cover 20 product categories, three-year periods and sales in each product category to the top 25 countries. We opted to present most information in table format rather than graphs because we believe tables do a better job with so much information.

The reports are provided for your benefit, however, so feel free to share your ideas with us if you believe additional formats would be useful.

Data Limitations

The data available to us suffers from some limitations, two of which are worth noting now. One is that the data does not capture all exports. The other limitation is that some data relating to optics is categorized with data not relating to the firearms industry, preventing the industry-relevant data from being segregated. We will dive into data limitations in a future issue.


We are not currently tracking ammunition exports. This will change soon. We appreciate your patience.

 View: EasyExport Insights May 2020
EasyExport Insights May 2020.pdf