Unctad: Global E-Commerce Jumps to USD 26.7 Trillion

Geneva / CH. (unctad) The dramatic rise in e-commerce amid movement restrictions induced by Covid-19 increased online retail sales’ share of total retail sales from 16 percent to 19 percent in 2020, according to estimates in an Unctad report published on 03 May. Unctad released the report as it hosted a two-day meeting on measuring e-commerce and the digital economy. According to the report, online retail sales grew markedly in several countries, with the Republic of Korea reporting the highest share at 25.9 percent in 2020, up from 20.8 percent the year before (Table 1). Meanwhile, global e-commerce sales jumped to USD 26.7 trillion in 2019, up 4 percent 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 percent of global gross domestic product (GDP) that year. «These statistics show the growing importance of online activities. 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,» said Shamika Sirimanne, Unctad’s director of technology and logistics.

Table 1: Online retail sales, selected economies, 2018-2020

Economy Online retail sales (USD billions) Retail sales (USD billions) Online share ( percent of retail sales)
2018 2019 2020 2018 2019 2020 2018 2019 2020
Australia 13.5 14.4 22.9 239 229 242 5.6 6.3 9.4
Canada 13.9 16.5 28.1 467 462 452 3.0 3.6 6.2
China 1,060.4 1,233.6 1,414.3 5,755 5,957 5,681 18.4 20.7 24.9
Korea (Rep.) 76.8 84.3 104.4 423 406 403 18.2 20.8 25.9
Singapore 1.6 1.9 3.2 34 32 27 4.7 5.9 11.7
United Kingdom 84.0 89.0 130.6 565 564 560 14.9 15.8 23.3
United States 519.6 598.0 791.7 5,269 5,452 5,638 9.9 11.0 14.0
Economies above 1,770 2,038 2,495 12,752 13,102 13,003 14 16 19

Source: Unctad, based on national statistics offices.

Mixed fortunes for some firms

The Covid-19 pandemic has also resulted in mixed fortunes for leading B2C e-commerce companies, according to the Unctad report. Data for the top 13 e-commerce firms, 11 of which are from China and the United States, shows a notable reversal of fortunes for platform companies offering services such as ride-hailing and travel (Table 2). All of them experienced sharp declines in gross merchandize value (GMV) and corresponding drops in ranks. For instance, Expedia fell from 5th place in 2019 to 11th in 2020, Booking Holdings from 6th to 12th and Airbnb, which launched its initial public offering in 2020, from 11th to 13th. Despite the reduction in services companies’ GMV, total GMV for the top 13 B2C e-commerce companies rose by 20.5 percent in 2020, higher than in 2019 (17.9 percent). There were particularly large gains for Shopify (up 95.6 percent) and Walmart (72.4 percent). Overall, B2C GMV for the top 13 companies stood at USD 2.9 trillion in 2020.

Table 2: Top B2C e-commerce companies by GMV, 2020

Rank by GMV Company HQ Industry GMV (USD billions) GMV change ( percent)
2020 2019 2018 2019 2020 2018-19 2019-20
1 1 Alibaba China E-commerce 866 954 1,145 10.2 20.1
2 2 Amazon USA E-commerce 344 417 575 21.0 38.0
3 3 JD.com China E-commerce 253 302 379 19.1 25.4
4 4 Pinduoduo China E-commerce 71 146 242 104.4 65.9
5 9 Shopify Canada Internet Media + Services 41 61 120 48.7 95.6
6 7 eBay USA E-commerce 90 86 100 -4.8 17.0
7 10 Meituan China E-commerce 43 57 71 33.0 24.6
8 12 Walmart USA Consumer goods retail 25 37 64 47.0 72.4
9 8 Uber USA Internet Media + Services 50 65 58 30.5 -10.9
10 13 Rakuten Japan E-commerce 30 34 42 13.6 24.2
11 5 Expedia USA Internet Media + Services 100 108 37 8.2 -65.9
12 6 Booking Holdings USA Internet Media + Services 93 96 35 4.0 -63.3
13 11 Airbnb USA Internet Media + Services 29 38 24 29.3 -37.1
Companies above 2,035 2,399 2,890 17.9 20.5

Source: Unctad based on company reports. Note: Alibaba year beginning 1 April, Walmart year beginning 1 February. GMV = Gross Merchandize Value (as well as Booking Value).

Business-to-business sales dominate e-commerce

The report estimates the value of global B2B e-commerce in 2019 at USD 21.8 trillion, representing 82 percent of all e-commerce, including both sales over online market platforms and electronic data interchange (EDI) transactions. The United States continued to dominate the overall e-commerce market, ahead of Japan and China (Table 3). B2C e-commerce sales were estimated at USD 4.9 trillion in 2019, up 11 percent 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 USD 440 billion in 2019, an increase of 9 percent over 2018. The Unctad report also notes that the share of online shoppers making cross-border purchases rose from 20 percent in 2017 to 25 percent in 2019.

Table 3: E-commerce sales: Top 10 countries, 2019

Rank Economy Total e-commerce sales (USD billions) Share of total e-commerce sales in GDP ( percent) B2B e-commerce sales (USD billions) Share of B2B e-commerce sales in total e-commerce ( percent) B2C e-commerce sales (USD billions)
1 United States 9,580 45 8,319 87 1,261
2 Japan 3,416 67 3,238 95 178
3 China 2,604 18 1,065 41 1,539
4 Korea (Republic) 1,302 79 1,187 91 115
5 United Kingdom 885 31 633 72 251
6 France 785 29 669 85 116
7 Germany 524 14 413 79 111
8 Italy 431 22 396 92 35
9 Australia 347 25 325 94 21
10 Spain 344 25 280 81 64
10 above 20,218 36 16,526 82 3,691
World 26,673 30 21,803 4,870

Source: Unctad, based on national sources.

E-commerce firms perform poorly in digital inclusion

Despite e-commerce firms’ sizeable fortunes, an index released by the World Benchmarking Alliance in December last year rated them poorly on digital inclusion. The index ranked 100 digital companies, including 14 e-commerce firms, based on how they contribute to access to digital technologies, building digital skills, enhancing trust and fostering innovation. E-commerce enterprises underperformed compared to companies in other digital industries such as hardware or telecommunication services. For instance, the highest-ranked e-commerce company was eBay at 49th place. Overall, e-commerce companies obtained a score of just 20 out of a possible 100. According to the Unctad report, a main factor for the poor performance is that e-commerce companies are relatively young, typically founded only in the last two decades. «These firms have been more focused on shareholders rather than engaging with a wide group of stakeholders and compiling metrics on their environmental, social and governance performance,» the report says. Nonetheless, there are some bright spots. For instance, several e-commerce companies provide free training to entrepreneurs on how to sell online including in some cases, specifically targeted at vulnerable groups such as people with disabilities or ethnic minorities.