The COVID-19 period 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 e-commerce giants such as Amazon or Otto who broke growth and sales records. From online supermarkets over fashion online stores to niche players – selling products online to consumers in 2020 was a fruitful business. Some retailers even changed their focus and adopted a digital-first strategy.
The COVID-19 outbreak did obviously not only have profiteers. The positive developments in e-commerce 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 during COVID.
COVID propelled the increase of online sales
In their preliminary assessment, UNCTAD experts assume that COVID propelled the increase of the share that online sales contribute total retail sales in 2020 in most countries. E-commerce sales as a share of overall retail sales in all of those countries taken together increased by 3% in 2020. Compared to an increase of 2% in the preceding year. The countries which report data on e-commerce shares reached an average online sales share of 19% in total retail sales.
The UK is catching up to South Korea and China
The United States, the United Kingdom, South Korea, and China are those with the highest e-commerce shares out of the mentioned countries. All of them recorded a sharper increase in online shares in 2020 compared to 2019. The UK shows the most pronounced jump of 7.5%. While e-commerce 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.
The highest e-commerce shares
South Korea and China have the highest e-commerce shares in total retail sales in this comparison. South Korea has an e-commerce share of 26% and China 25%. Both countries also extended their online shares remarkably in 2020.
US has the lowest e-commerce share
In the United States, the 2020 e-commerce share (14%) is lowest among the four countries. However, with an increase of 3% 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.