2022 is shaping up to be a tough year for e-commerce stocks.

A combination of difficult comparisons with 2021, fears of a recession, and consumer demand shifting back to brick-and-mortar stores and services like travel and restaurants is weighing on this usually reliable growth sector.

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, adjusted e-commerce sales (which factors in inflation) grew just 6.6% in the first quarter, and e-commerce's total share of retail sales actually fell from 14.8% in Q1 2021 to 14.3% in Q1 2022.

Census Bureau e-commerce data hasn't come in for the second quarter yet, but early reports from some online retailers show that the sector continues to struggle. Amazon (AMZN 1.67%) reported losses in both of its e-commerce segments, and first-party sales fell 4% in the second quarter.

Etsy (ETSY 0.23%), the artisan-based online marketplace, reported a decline of 0.4% in gross merchandise sales, or the total volume sold on the platform, showing stiff headwinds. Other e-commerce results are expected to be weak as well.

How CarParts.com is bucking the trend

One stock that is still delivering solid growth in e-commerce is CarParts.com (PRTS 2.34%), an online auto parts seller formerly known as U.S. Auto Parts. The company grew briskly during the pandemic, but it still posted 12% top-line growth in its latest quarter to $176.2 million in sales. That suggests it's outperforming the overall e-commerce sector and grabbing share from its brick-and-mortar competitors. Its GAAP profit per share of $0.07 also easily beat expectations of a loss of $0.04.  

CarParts.com is delivering double-digit growth thanks to its expanding distribution network, having recently completed the expansion of its Grand Prairie, Texas, warehouse and opened a new warehouse in Jacksonville, Florida, giving it seven distribution centers across the country. The company can now ship to 99% of the U.S. within two days and 55% of the country in one day, making it competitive with brick-and-mortar retail.

The company's inventory strategy has also paid off as it's beefed up its inventory in order to absorb any supply chain disruptions, as CEO David Meniane estimated the company was carrying $40 million in extra inventory. It also guided for double-digit growth in the second half of the year, though the company is also focused on increasing profitability through free cash flow and EBITDA growth. In the second quarter, adjusted EBITDA held steady at $8.3 million, while the company reported a free cash flow loss of $2.3 million for the first half of the year, up from a loss of $4.4 million a year ago.

Do-it-for-me launches

CarParts.com's most promising long-term growth may be its new do-it-for-me (DIFM) business, where customers can connect with a mechanic through the CarParts.com website, order the part from CarParts.com, and bring it in for the mechanic to do the job. 

The company tested the program in a pilot operation last year, and it is now offering it in select locations around the country with headlights, taillights, and mirrors now available for installation. The company will soon add brake parts like calipers, pads, and discs to the service. The do-it-for-me service offers transparent pricing, convenient scheduling, and pre-vetted service professionals. Meniane said mechanics like the offering because they see it as incremental revenue. 

CarParts.com has so far done hundreds of DIFM jobs and plans to test the program until it has fine-tuned the customer experience. At that point, it will roll out DIFM into more markets and support its growth with marketing. Since most auto parts demand goes through the DIFM channel, rather than DIY, the new service has the potential to be a significant long-term growth driver for the company as well as a differentiator from other auto parts chains, giving it a competitive advantage. 

With a price-to-sales ratio of less than 1 and profitability improving, CarParts.com still has a lot of upside potential. Keep an eye on the auto parts stock as it should gain momentum again once the broader e-commerce headwinds fade.