eCommerce share in total retail sales increases

Online shares in total retail sales in South Korea, China, the U.S., and the UK jump in corona year 2020


The pandemic year 2020 was a lucrative one for online retail – economists and analysts around the world agree and the reported sales figures of online retailers across the board back the assumption: It was not only eCommerce giants like Amazon or Otto who broke growth and sales records, from online supermarkets over fashion online stores to niche players like online wine retailers – selling products online to consumers in 2020 was a fruitful business. Some retailers – for example Douglas – even changed their focus and adopted a digital-first strategy. The corona crisis did obviously not only have profiteers, though. The positive developments in eCommerce were partly at the expense of stationary retail. As stores were forced to close during lockdowns and people became hesitant to leave the house for anything but the essential, stationary retail widely suffered from a drop in demand and significant sales losses. The United Nations Conference on Trade and Development UNCTAD has released figures which illustrate the shift from offline to online retail in selected economies in the corona year 2020:

In their preliminary assessment of the impact of COVID-19 on eCommerce in 2020, UNCTAD experts assume that the coronavirus pandemic propelled the increase of the share that online sales contribute total retail sales in 2020 in most countries. When analyzing data on online retail sales provided by certain national statistical offices, eCommerce sales as a share of overall retail sales in all of those countries taken together increased by 3 percentage points in 2020, as compared to an increase of 2 percentage points in the preceding year. The countries which report data on eCommerce shares reached an average online sales share of 19% in total retail sales. The United States, the United Kingdom, South Korea, and China are those with the highest eCommerce shares out of the mentioned countries. All of them recorded a sharper increase in online shares in 2020 than in 2019, with the UK showing the most pronounced jump of 7.5 percentage points. While eCommerce was responsible for 16% of total retail sales in the UK in 2019, the online share in 2020 was 23%. Thus, the UK now has an online share almost as high as South Korea and China, while it had still been far behind those two countries in 2019. South Korea and China have the highest eCommerce shares in total retail sales in this comparison, with 26% and 25%, respectively. Both countries also extended their online shares remarkably in 2020. In the United States, the 2020 eCommerce share (14%) is lowest among the four countries, but with an increase of 3 percentage points from 2019, it grew sharper than in South Korea and China. Thus, although online shopping is still more well-rooted in Asian countries, western economies seem to be catching up. And the trend is likely to continue as the pandemic is far from over.

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May 2021

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