The rise in e-commerce amid movement restrictions induced by Covid‑19 increased online retail sales’ share of total retail sales from 16% to 19% in 2020, according to estimates in a report published by the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (Unctad) on May 3.
“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 Uncted technology and logistics director Shamika Sirimanne.
Online retail sales grew markedly in several countries, with the Republic of Korea reporting the highest share at 25.9% in 2020, up from 20.8% the year before.
Total gross merchandise volumes for the top 13 business-to-consumer e-commerce companies, ten of which are from China and the US, rose by 20.5% in 2020, higher than in 2019 at 17.9%. There were particularly large gains for Shopify, up 95.6%, and Walmart, up 72.4%.
Overall, business-to-consumer gross merchandise volumes for the top 13 companies stood at $2.9-trillion in 2020.
“The US continued to dominate the overall e-commerce market, ahead of Japan and China.”
Nevertheless, the pandemic also resulted in mixed fortunes for leading business-to-consumer e-commerce companies. Data for the top 13 e-commerce firms shows a notable reversal of fortunes for platform companies offering services such as ride hailing and travel. All of them experienced sharp declines in gross merchandise volume and corresponding drops in ranks, according to the Unctad report.
Further, despite e-commerce firms’ sizeable fortunes, an index released by the World Benchmarking Alliance in December last year rated them poorly on digital inclusion, said Sirimanne.
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.
Overall, e-commerce companies obtained a score of just 20 out of a possible 100. According to the Unctad report, a main factor behind 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.
“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,” said Sirimanne.