20+ stats that show how online retail is changing – Econsultancy

Changing retail trends – in particular the rise of online shopping – are one of the biggest topics that we cover at Econsultancy and one that we’ve been writing about more or less since the beginning.

But even within online retail (ecommerce) alone, we’ve seen huge shifts and changes over time – online retail in 2019 looks completely different to online retail in 2009. Over the past decade or more we’ve seen changes in device usage, shopping channels, and global markets. Ecommerce is impacting everything from parcel deliveries to grocery shopping; some of the changes are smaller, or slower, than we might have expected, while others are bigger than we appreciated.

Here are 20 statistics (plus a few extras) that illustrate the most important changes taking place in online retail.

(And remember, Econsultancy subscribers can access thousands more stats in the Internet Statistics Database.)

The growth of ecommerce

1) Online has grown steadily as a percentage of retail sales since 2000

Mary Meeker’s 2019 Internet Trends report looked back over the growth of ecommerce as a percentage of total retail sales in the US, from Q1 2000 to Q1 of 2019.

The graph shows a steady climb from around 1% of retail sales in 2000 to close to 16% in 2019. Growth appears to have been relatively consistent with the exception of the period between Q4 2007 and Q4 2008 where it plateaued at around and then dropped slightly – most likely because of the recession – before recovering in Q1 2009.

2) Online retail growth in the UK sped up in 2015

An August 2018 report by the Office of National Statistics, Comparing “bricks and mortar” store sales with online retail sales, charted the growth of online retail in the UK from 2008 to 2017 alongside the growth of store-only retail and the retail sector as a whole.

We can compare the relative growth of each retail type side by side on the index chart below, and observe trends. It becomes apparent from looking at the graph that in-store retail sales, while gradually trending upwards, have been fairly flat since 2008. Meanwhile, growth in online retail sales has been climbing quickly, experiencing a particularly sharp upturn in 2015.

As the report author notes,

“Online sales have shown a steady increase since 2008, but have really set off in the last three years, as online spending increased at a faster rate from 2015. This has coincided with a slight slowdown in store spending, which shows the beginning of a shift in consumer behaviour to spending more online.”

The Asia Pacific powerhouse

3) China overtook the US to become the world’s largest ecommerce market in 2013

If you want statistics that show how much online retail is changing, you don’t need to look much further than the shifts in the world’s largest ecommerce markets. The United States was the largest ecommerce market in the world until 2013, when it was overtaken by China – which has been on top ever since.

4) By 2023, online retail sales in Asia Pacific will have reached $2.5 trillion

And the Asia Pacific region will continue to be a powerhouse of online retail into the foreseeable future. According to Forrester Analytics’ Online Retail Forecast, 2018 to 2023, by 2023 online retail sales in Asia Pacific will total $2.5 trillion – accounting for 28% of total retail sales globally. Of these, India continues to be the fastest-growing region in the world, and is projected to reach $85 billion in online retail sales by 2023, according to the report.

Changing device usage

5) Schuh: Mobile traffic has increased sixfold in six years, while desktop has plummeted

Changes in device usage over time are another perfect example of how our interaction with online retail is changing. Stuart McMillan, Head of Ecommerce at footwear brand Schuh, shared a fascinating long view of device usage for Schuh’s website, from 2012 to 2018. He revealed that mobile traffic for Schuh has risen from 13% in 2012 to 77% in 2018. Meanwhile, desktop has plummeted from 80% in 2012 to around 20% in 2018.

My long view on our device usage, I’ve been updating this graph every month since I started here, 6 years of how our traffic splits by device category pic.twitter.com/SM8mVGpuSc

– stuart mcmillan (@mcmillanstu) January 2, 2019

Tablet traffic, meanwhile, has never made up a significant portion of Schuh’s website traffic, rising to a relative peak of 20% in 2013 and 2014 before dwindling to less than 10% in 2018.

6) ASOS: 77% of traffic came from mobile devices in 2017, up from 16% in 2012

Schuh’s traffic is interesting from the perspective of a retailer with both an online and bricks-and-mortar presence, but what about a pure-play etailer? According to ASOS’ annual reports, in 2012 16% of the retailer’s traffic came from mobile devices (including tablets). By 2017, mobile devices were making up more than three-quarters (77%) of ASOS’ total traffic.

7) Smartphones accounted for half of all visits to US retail websites for the first time during the 2018 holiday season

The winter holiday season – that is to say, November and December – is a particularly intense period of activity for the vast majority of online retailers, making it an excellent microcosm of changing trends.

According to Adobe’s Digital Insights Holiday Recap 2018, smartphones drove half (51.4%) of all visits to US retail websites over the 61-day holiday period, and accounted for close to a third (33%) of revenue. This was the first year that smartphones accounted for half of all visits. Desktop traffic accounted for 40% of visits and 60% of revenue, while tablets drove the remaining 9% of both visits and revenue.


8) Ecommerce is driving the growth of UK parcel deliveries

OfCom’s Communications Market Report, published annually, tracks the changes in volume of different items sent via the post in the UK. Unsurprisingly, it has observed a rise in the volume of parcels delivered that aligns with the rise of online shopping.

By 2013, there was already a noticeable impact; the Communications Market Report 2013 noted that, “Reflecting the increase in online shopping and home deliveries, over a third of adults (34%) who say they are receiving more items of post say they are receiving more parcels now than two years ago (net). Among those who say the number of items of post they receive has increased, 37% of those with web access say they are receiving more parcels, compared to
just 8% of those without access to the internet at home.”

In 2018, the Communications Market Report noted that parcel volumes between 2016 and 2017 had grown by 12% to 2,342 million items, “reflecting the continuing growth in e-commerce in the UK.” The report went on, “Although the relationship between online retail activity and parcels is not absolute, the growth in e-commerce and the take-up of subscription delivery services (such as Amazon Prime) may have encouraged consumers to make more purchases online, especially if these services make it easier and cheaper to make multiple small purchases.”

9) Home delivery has fallen with the rise of click-and-collect but remains popular

OfCom’s Communications Market Report, published annually, provides some interesting insights into how online shoppers’ preferred delivery options have changed over the years. In 2013, home delivery was king with 90% of people who shopped online choosing to have an item delivered to their home address. Other delivery options such as work (4%), a friend or family member (2%) and the Post Office (1%) paled by comparison.

By 2015, this figure had fallen to 68% with the rise of more varied delivery options: 14% of shoppers were opting to use click-and-collect, while 2% preferred to have their item delivered to a parcel locker (up from 0% in 2013). Delivery to work had also risen slightly in popularity with 6% choosing this option.

However, by 2017 the popularity of click-and-collect had receded slightly, while home delivery recovered: 13% of shoppers now preferred to use click-and-collect, while 70% opted for home delivery. Delivery to the workplace had dwindled back down to 4%, while parcel locker delivery remained consistent at 2%.

Online grocery shopping

10) Online grocery sales growth is outpacing food sales growth in the US

Online grocery shopping is one sector of online retail that has been slow to take off, at least in the west, due in part to consumer preferences for choosing the best and freshest items in person. However, according to Internet Retailer, the online grocery sector in the United States is growing at a far faster pace than food sales as a whole: in 2017, the online grocery market grew by 26.5%, nearly nine times faster than the food market as a whole, which grew by just 3%.

With that said, online groceries also have a lot of ground to make up: in 2017, online grocery sales came to $31.39 billion, a fraction of the $1.043 trillion US food industry.

11) The online share of grocery sales in the UK is growing – slowly

Meanwhile, in the UK, the online grocery sector is also growing – but at a much more cautious rate. Research by Mintel found that the share of grocery retail sales carried out online grew by 0.9% in two years, rising from 6.1% in 2016 to 7% in 2018. Mintel forecasts that this share will grow to 10% of all grocery sales by 2023, with online grocery sales set to total £19.8 billion, up from £12.3 billion in 2018.

Online marketplaces

12) 96% of US consumers who shop online do so on marketplaces

In the current ecommerce landscape, online marketplaces are king – at least according to the 2018 UPS Pulse of the Online Shopper report, which found that 96% of US consumers who shop online do so on marketplaces – up from 85% in 2016.

Nor is the US even the leader in this regard – Europe and Canada are both tied with the US with 96% of consumers shopping at online marketplaces, while 98% of consumers in Asia shop at online marketplaces, and 99% of consumers in Mexico.

The top reason cited by US consumers for shopping on a marketplace was better prices (65%), followed by free and discounted shipping (55%) and a broader selection in any given category (37%).

13) By 2022, 75% of B2B tail spend goods will be purchased in an online marketplace

Online marketplaces aren’t just big in B2C. In Gartner Predicts 2018, Gartner’s analysts predicted that by 2022, 75% of all B2B tail spend goods will be purchased in an online marketplace like Amazon Business or Alibaba’s 1688.com (tail spend is the 10-20% of spend that is not related to core corporate functions and doesn’t come from the same set of suppliers on a regular basis).

Analyst Patrick Connaughton attributes this prediction to the rapid growth of these platforms over the last few years, ease of access, the intuitive nature of purchasing, and the continued development of features to meet procurement’s specific spend policy and control requirements.


14) Amazon could make up 50% of US ecommerce sales by 2021

Amazon is an undisputed titan of the ecommerce world, but there is debate about exactly how large its share of ecommerce sales is in the United States. Until June 2019, a widely-circulated estimate was that Amazon made up 47% of US online retail sales, as assessed by research firm eMarketer. However, this estimate was revised sharply downwards in June following new data disclosed by CEO Jeff Bezos, and eMarketer now estimates Amazon’s share of US ecommerce sales at 38%.

Assuming that Amazon continues to increase its ecommerce dominance, at what point will it reach the coveted 50% mark? One prediction by Wall Street firm Needham & Co estimates that it will happen in 2021. With that said, Needham & Co’s timeline (which was made in 2017) puts Amazon on 45% of US ecommerce sales by 2019, which conflicts with eMarketer’s estimate.

Given that Amazon does not disclose the total amount that shoppers spend on its services, these figures can only be estimates. However, once Amazon does reach 50% of online retail sales in the US, it’s likely that we’ll hear about it from the company itself.

15) 54% of US consumers visit Amazon first when shopping online

According to the 2018 Online Marketplaces Report, produced by Internet Retailer in association with Newegg, Amazon is the first site visited by 54% of US consumers when shopping online, and the second for 22%. Google is the first site visited for 15% of US shoppers and the second for 22%, while Walmart is the first stop for 6% of shoppers, and the second stop for 14%.

Pure-play ecommerce

16) The growth of pure-play ecommerce is driving the expansion of online retail in the UK

The Office for National Statistics’ August 2018 report, Comparing “bricks and mortar” store sales with online retail sales, assessed that the growth of online retail in the UK is largely driven by increased spending in pure-play ecommerce stores – and is not a result of a shift away from in-store spending. It found that between January 2008 and August 2018, the amount spent online on “non-store” retailers – which encompasses any type of retailer without a permanent bricks and mortar presence – rose from 36p of every pound to 78 pence of every pound.

Other sectors like department stores and textile, clothing and footwear saw significant growth in their online sales between 2008 and 2017, but their in-store sales – while much slower growing – did not decline. Household goods was the only retail category that saw a decrease in in-store sales between 2008 and 2017.

Social commerce

17) Social media’s share of ecommerce referrals is rising

After a number of prominent near-misses over the years, it seems as though social commerce – the intersection of ecommerce and social media – is finally becoming a reality. Mary Meeker’s Internet Trends Report 2018 highlighted some figures which showed a steady increase in the percentage of ecommerce referrals from social media – from 2% in Q1 2015 to 6% in Q1 2018.

She also highlighted the extent to which social media now serves as a discovery platform for products – in a way that translates into real purchases. According to the Curalate Customer Survey 2017, 55% of adults aged 18-65 had bought products within the last three months after discovering them on social media – either immediately (11%) or later on (44%).

18) 60% of Pinners use Pinterest for shopping inspiration – 41% while shopping in-store

Visual social networks like Pinterest and Instagram are particularly well-suited to driving product inspiration and purchases, and the figures indicate that these platforms are now playing a part in how their users shop online. In 2018, Pinterest published a study of how Pinners (its users) shop using Pinterest, and revealed that 60% of users get ideas for what to buy from Pinterest, above search engines (48%), friends and family (41%) and other social media platforms (35%).

They even interact with the website while in-store, with two-fifths (41%) of Pinners who shop in-store saying they use Pinterest while shopping.

19) 46% of Instagram users made a purchase after seeing a product on Instagram

Even before Facebook launched Instagram Checkout, a new feature allowing users to purchase products directly from their Instagram feeds, retail brands were building a business around Instagram. A study published by Facebook in February 2019 shows the extent to which Instagram was already influencing shopping behaviour: after seeing a product or service on Instagram, 46% of users surveyed reported making a purchase online or offline, with 37% visiting a retail shop.

No statistics have yet been published about how users are interacting with Instagram Checkout, but it’s clear that social networks like Instagram are already part of the shopping journey for many consumers.

Voice commerce

20) 16% of smart speaker owners report using voice shopping on a monthly basis

Voice is a new channel for shopping that is so far seeing relatively low uptake among consumers, but there are signs that some voice users are forming a regular shopping habit. According the Voicebot.ai Voice Shopping Consumer Adoption Report 2018, 21.2% of US adults have tried voice shopping, a figure which rises to 26.1% among those who own a smart speaker.

Of these smart speaker owners, as of May 2018, 16% reported using voice shopping on a monthly basis; Voicebot.ai and Voysis, who produced the study, noted that this figure had risen by 4.5 percentage points since January 2018 – suggesting that more smart speaker owners are returning to shop on a regular basis. With that said, it’s important to be aware that this data came from a consumer survey that may not tally with absolute numbers from virtual assistant companies such as Amazon (which does not release number of voice purchases).

Remember, Econsultancy subscribers can access thousands more stats in the Internet Statistics Database.


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