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e-Commerce in numbers: stats on what, when and how we shop online

How much do we buy?

e-Commerce is increasing rapidly. Consumers buy more and more of their products and services online. Since 2014, worldwide online retail sales have, according to eMarketer, grown by a staggering 43.34%, reaching sales of approximately 1.81 trillion Euros. This number is expected to increase each year in the coming years, and by 2020 the sales are forecasted to be double the 2016 figure. eMarketer explains this growth by the increasing online sales in China, India, the US and developing countries in Africa and the Middle East.

An interesting note is that, despite the positive growth, forecasts have been downward adjusted the recent year due to low gas prices and the US dollar exchange rate. The lower prices on gas itself decrease total retail spendings. Consumers, contrary to expectations, used these savings to bring down debt or for savings, not to increase their retail spendings in other areas. Investopedia argues that the strong US dollar hurts retail through tourism. Travel in itself is excluded from the above figure, but the dollar decreases tourism in the US. For US retailers, mainly speciality retailers who rely heavily on tourists, this has lead to lower sales.

As of 2016, e-Commerce retail sales make up 8.7% of the total sales in the global retail industry. This share is expected to increase to 14.6% by 2020. The growth in e-Commerce retail will presumably be three times the size of the growth in brick and mortar retail.

pie chart of e-Commerce sales in 2016 and expected in 2020
Sales Numbers

Here retail sales contain all channels, including C2C. Cars and gas are included, while travel, event tickets, and restaurant visits are excluded.

The number of purchases made online is highly correlated to the number of people with access to the internet. Euromonitor International estimates that in developed countries, 79% of the population has internet access as opposed to only 36% in emerging economies. The number of people buying online is expected to increase as more and more people will have access to the internet. In 2016, 43% of the world population had internet access, however, already by 2020 49% is expected to be able to access the world wide web.

How many of us buy online?

An increasing amount of consumers has made a purchase online. It is anticipated that there were 1.61 billion digital buyers worldwide as of 2016. Eurostat states that 66% of internet users in the EU aged 16-74 have bought a product or service online, an increase of 16 percentage points since 2007. In the UK, Germany, and Denmark the number is above 80%.

66 out of 100 people marked indicating the number of EU citizens using the internet

Within all age groups, we are experiencing an increase in the number of online shoppers. However, it is still the younger part of the population that shops online most frequently. PWC’s explanation for this is that the millennials are the first generation born and raised with modern day technology. As a result, they are more used to being online, they have more faith in e-Commerce and are therefore more inclined to spend their money online. Of the millennials, the most frequent online shoppers are those having children living at home.

What do we buy?

61% of the online shoppers in the EU have bought clothes or sporting goods online, making this the most popular category. Just above half (52%) spent money online on travelling, holidays, or accommodation. Household goods (including furniture and toys) are also popular items to buy online, with 44% of the online shoppers having bought something in this category. Events (38%), books, magazines and newspapers (33%) are also purchased online quite often.

graph showing which products were bought online
Categories purchased

Dreamwise Marketing claims that in general, when consumers shop online, they tend to purchase things they want, rather than things they actually need (i.e. practical things, for example, personal care products).

How often do we buy?

Statista shows a great variation in how often people shop online. Most people (31%) make an online purchase once a month. Fortunately for the webshop owners, more people shop more often than that, either once every two weeks (23%) or once a week (16%). 29% of the online shoppers make a purchase in a webshop less than once a month, either 3-4 times every three months or just once every three months.

Note: The numbers in this graph do not add up to 100% due to rounding differences

graph showing how often people shop online
Purchase Frequency

From what devices do we buy?

A report from GlobalWebIndex reveals that when buying online, most people use their laptops or PCs. About half have also made an online purchase on their phone, but not many use their tablets for online shopping.

graph showing which devices are used for online shopping
Device Stats

This is good news for the webshop owners because, according to Monetate, people tend to spend more money (132.5 Euros) per purchase when they buy from their computer compared to other devices. The average order value on a tablet (96.9 Euros) is higher than that for a phone (89.4 Euros).

graph showing the order size depending on whether the purchase was made on phone, tablet, og computer
Device Sum

However, online retailers have to pay attention to the development within the use of devices for online shopping, as it seems tablets and mobile phones are going to be the preferred shopping device by more and more people in the future. Especially millennials use their mobile devices more often than older generations, and their use these devices for online purchases are expected to increase.

In addition, Chinese online consumers (a fast-growing consumer group) are more inclined to buy from their mobile devices. Therefore, it’s crucial that online retailers make sure their webshop is compatible with mobile devices and that the check-out will run as smoothly on a smartphone as it does on a laptop.

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