During this week's United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) e-commerce week, the group presented research that found online sales in 2021 sustained the significant increases brought on by the global Covid-19 pandemic in 2020. While some thought e-commerce growth would wane as restrictions were lifted in many countries, it has not happened yet.
While mature markets like the U.S., the U.K. and China saw strong gains in e-commerce over the last two years, developing countries saw the biggest leaps. According to the UNCTAD research, the share of internet users who shopped online in the United Arab Emirates more than doubled from 27 percent to 63 percent from 2019 to 2020. Bahrain and Uzbekistan also saw online shopping rates triple (albeit from relatively low starting points).
Developed markets saw an acceleration as well. In Australia, Canada, China, Singapore, South Korea, the U.K. and the U.S., which combined comprise about half of global GDP, e-commerce sales rose from around $2 trillion in 2019, to $2.5 trillion in 2020, to $2.9 trillion in 2021.
“Looking across all these countries, although the disruption and economic uncertainty wrought by the pandemic suppressed overall retail sales into 2020 (only Australia and the United States saw retail sales increase from 2019 to 2020), online retail sales grew strongly as people took to shopping online and as offline sales declined,” according to an UNCTAD spokesperson. “This led to a marked increase in the share of online sales in total retail sales—from 16 percent in 2019 to 19 percent in 2020. That level was sustained into 2021 despite offline sales picking up strongly.”