Global E-com Sales Hit $25.6 Trn In 2018: UNCTAD

E-commerce sales hit $25.6 trillion globally in 2018, up by 8 per cent from 2017 figures, according to the latest estimates by the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD), which is celebrating the UNCTAD eWeek online event from April 27 to May 1 to explore digital solutions and policies to help the world recover from the COVID-19 crisis.

The event features dialogues among ministers, heads of international organisations, business executives and civil society representatives.

According to the UNCTAD analysis, the estimated 2018 e-commerce sales value, which includes business-to-business (B2B) and business-to-consumer (B2C) sales, was equivalent to 30 per cent of global gross domestic product (GDP) that year.

“The coronavirus crisis has accelerated the uptake of digital solutions, tools and services, but the overall impact on the value of e-commerce in 2020 is still hard to predict,” said Shamika Sirimanne, UNCTAD’s director of technology and logistics in a press release.

The 2017 value of global e-commerce was estimated at $23.8 trillion, based on a revised methodology.

The value of global B2B e-commerce in 2018 was $21 trillion, representing 83 per cent of all e-commerce, comprising both sales on online market platforms and electronic data interchange transactions.

B2C e-commerce was valued at $4.4 trillion, up by 16 per cent from 2017. Cross-border B2C e-commerce sales amounted to $404 billion in 2018, representing an increase of 7 per cent over 2017 figures. The United States continued to dominate the overall e-commerce market. It remained among the top three countries by B2C e-commerce sales, alongside China and the United Kingdom.

The leading B2C e-commerce companies are based mostly in China and the United States. The world’s top 10 B2C companies in 2018 generated almost $2 trillion in gross merchandise value (GMV), according to the report.

China’s Alibaba was far ahead with a GMV of $866 billion in 2018, followed by Amazon with $277 billion. However, in terms of revenue, China’s and Amazon were ahead of Alibaba.

Developing and transition economies accounted for about half of the top 20 economies by B2C e-commerce sales. In relation to GDP, B2C e-commerce in these economies was the largest in Hong Kong, China and the United Kingdom, and smallest in India, Brazil and Russia.

Among the top 20 economies, the extent to which Internet users engage in online purchases varies considerably. For example, in 2018, 87 per cent of Internet users in the United Kingdom shopped online, compared with only 14 per cent in Thailand and 11 per cent in India.

UNCTAD estimates that 1.45 billion people, or one quarter of the world’s population aged 15 and older, made purchases online in 2018. This is 9 per cent higher than 2017 figures.

China had the largest number of online shoppers at 610 million, according to the report. While the bulk of online shoppers mainly bought from domestic suppliers, some 330 million online shoppers made cross-border purchases in 2018—a little more than one in five of all online shoppers.

The interest in buying from foreign suppliers continued to expand. The share of cross-border online shoppers to all online shoppers rose from 17 per cent in 2016 to 23 per cent in 2018.