Figures from the branch of the United Nations (UN) for Trade and Development (UNCTAD) show that the significant increase in e-commerce activity fueled by the covid-19 pandemic was sustained in 2021, with online sales increasing sharply in value despite of restrictions in many countries. According to the study, the average share of internet users who shopped online increased from 53% before the pandemic in 2019 to 60% after the onset of the health crisis in 66 countries with available statistics.
But the pre-pandemic situation and the extent of the push for online shopping experienced varies between countries, he points out. Many developed economies already had relatively high levels of online shopping (over 50% of internet users) before, while most developing countries had lower consumer acceptance of e-commerce, UNCTAD indicates.
One reason for the differences is that countries differ greatly in their extent of digitization and therefore in their ability to quickly turn to digital technologies to mitigate economic disruption, the study notes. Least developed countries are especially in need of support to adopt e-commerce, but are not represented in this analysis due to a lack of data on internet usage, says UNCTAD.
Official statistics available for seven countries, which together account for about half of global GDP (including the United States and China), indicate that online retail sales increased substantially in these countries, from about $2 trillion in 2019, just before the pandemic, to around US$2.5 trillion in 2020 and US$2.9 trillion in 2021, he points out.
The shift to online shopping has further strengthened the already strong market concentration of retail businesses, and Alibaba, Amazon, JD.com and Pinduoduo increased their revenues by 70% between 2019 and 2021, while their share of total sales among the top 13 platforms has increased from around 75% in 2018 and 2019 to over 80% in 2020 and 2021, says UNCTAD.