Global e-commerce hits $26.7T, online retail sales soar

Global e-commerce hits $26.7T, online retail sales soar

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  • Online retail sales’ share of total retail sales increased from 16% in 2019 to 19% in 2020
  • Online retail sales grew at an above average rate of 22% in 2020
  • Cross-border B2C e-commerce amounted to some $440 billion in 2019, an increase of 9% over 2018
  • An estimated 1.48 billion people made purchases online in 2019, about 7% higher than in 2018

Online retail sales’ share of total retail sales increased from 16% in 2019 to 19% in 2020, driven by the dramatic rise in e-commerce amid movement restrictions induced by COVID-19, according to a United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) report.

The report published May 3 noted that COVID-19 generated an increase in demand for online ordering of physical goods due to quarantine restrictions imposed in many countries.

It said online retail sales increased at above average rate last year, growing by 22% even as overall retail sales declined by 1%. The Republic of Korea reported the highest online share of retail trade at 25.9% in 2020, up from 20.8% the year before.

Meanwhile, global e-commerce sales jumped to US$26.7 trillion in 2019, up 4% from 2018, according to the latest available estimates. This includes business-to-business (B2B) and business-to-consumer (B2C) sales, and is equivalent to 30% of global gross domestic product (GDP) that year.

The United States continued to dominate the overall e-commerce market, ahead of Japan and China.

The report estimated the value of global B2B e-commerce in 2019 at $21.8 trillion, representing 82% of all e-commerce, including both sales over online market platforms and electronic data interchange transactions.

B2C e-commerce sales were estimated at $4.9 trillion in 2019, up 11% over 2018. The top three countries by B2C e-commerce sales remained China, the United States and the United Kingdom.

Cross-border B2C e-commerce amounted to some $440 billion in 2019, an increase of 9% over 2018. The UNCTAD report also noted that the share of online shoppers making cross-border purchases rose from 20% in 2017 to 25% in 2019.

UNCTAD estimated that 1.48 billion people made purchases online in 2019, about 7% higher than in 2018.

While the majority of online shoppers mainly buy from domestic suppliers, some 360 million online shoppers made cross-border purchases in 2019—around one in four of all online shoppers.

The interest in buying from foreign suppliers continued to expand. The share of cross-border online shoppers to all online shoppers rose from 20% in 2017 to 25% in 2019.

Developing and transition economies accounted for about half of the top 20 economies by B2C e-commerce sales in 2019. In relation to GDP, B2C e-commerce sales were the largest in Hong Kong, China and the United Kingdom.

Despite e-commerce firms’ sizeable fortunes, an index released by the World Benchmarking Alliance in December last year rated them poorly on digital inclusion.

E-commerce enterprises underperformed compared to companies in other digital industries such as hardware or telecommunication services, based on how they contribute to access to digital technologies, build digital skills, enhance trust and foster innovation.

The COVID-19 pandemic has also resulted in mixed fortunes for leading B2C e-commerce companies, showing sharp declines in gross merchandise value (GMV) for ride-hailing and travel service platforms such as Booking Holdings and Airbnb, according to the UNCTAD report.

Nonetheless, total GMV for the top 13 B2C e-commerce companies rose by 20.5% in 2020, higher than in 2019 (17.9%). There were particularly large gains for Shopify (up 95.6%) and Walmart (72.4%). Overall, B2C GMV for the top 13 companies stood at $2.9 trillion in 2020.

Photo by Anna Shvets from Pexels

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