UN Report: eCommerce Now Makes Up 19 Percent Of Global Retail Sales

Fueled by the COVID-19 pandemic, eCommerce around the globe surged to $26.7 trillion in 2019, and increased from 16 to 19 percent of total retail sales in 2020, according to a report released on Monday (May 3) by the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD).

The report was released amid a two-day meeting in Switzerland about measuring eCommerce and the digital economy hosted by UNCTAD  May 3-4.

The U.S. dominated the overall eCommerce market, followed by Japan and China, according to the report. Korea posted the biggest increase in online retail sales in 2020 — 25.9 percent, up from 20.8 percent in 2019. The country’s online sales went from roughly 1 in 5 transactions in 2019 to more than 1 in 4 in 2020. Digital sales were up in several countries, with worldwide eCommerce up 4 percent from 2019, per the report.

“These statistics show the growing importance of online activities,” Shamika Sirimanne, UNCTAD’s director of technology and logistics, said in a UN press release. “They also point to the need for countries, especially developing ones, to have such information as they rebuild their economies in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic.”

Global eCommerce — including business-to-business (B2B) and business-to-consumer (B2C) — comprised 30 percent of global gross domestic product (GDP) in 2020. Eleven of the top 13 eCommerce firms are from China and the U.S. 

Online transactions in the U.K. went up by 23.3 percent over the previous year’s 15.8 percent.

China’s eCommerce market went up by 24.9 percent from 20.7 percent the year prior. The U.S. went up by 14 percent from 11 percent. Increases were also posted by Australia, Singapore, and Canada, according to the report.

While eCommerce firms got a boost from the pandemic, digital platform firms in the rideshare and travel space experienced a steep drop in gross merchandise value (GMV), according to the report. Companies in the service space also saw declines in GMV.

By way of example, Expedia dropped to eleventh place last year from fifth place in 2019. Booking Holdings dropped to twelfth place from sixth. Airbnb, which went public last year, dropped to thirteenth place from eleventh.

Total GMV for the top 13 B2C eCommerce companies was $2.9 trillion in 2020, up by 20.5 percent last year compared to a 17.9 percent increase in 2019. Spotify was up 95.6 percent and Walmart, 72.4 percent, according to the report. 

The global B2B eCommerce market was $21.8 trillion in 2019 and comprised 82 percent of all eCommerce, including technology platforms and electronic data interchange (EDI) transactions.

Mastercard report last month showed that hundreds of billions of dollars went to eCommerce sites that normally would have been spent in physical stores. PYMNTS data, taken from ongoing shopping index research, showed that wider digital access around the globe has made the transition to remote work and school smoother.