eCommerce Trends in International Markets

It is clear that eCommerce has grown from strength to strength in international retail. The growth in the sector, particularly driven by BRIC economies, has been impressive, to say the least. However, that’s not to suggest the world’s established markets are in any way lagging.

Global eCommerce Market

Global retail eCommerce sales have grown by 22.9% since 2016 and double-digit growth is expected to continue through to 2020 with sales to reach $4 trillion. And they are no longer confined to single territories – over $400 was spent on cross-border purchases globally in 2016. This doesn’t come as a surprise when you consider 67% of global consumers who purchase goods on international sites, do so because prices are lower outside their own country.

Understanding cultural considerations and conversion optimisation are now common practice for most eCommerce retailers, especially when you consider that consumers use the internet more than ever before and are well informed when it comes to purchasing products online.

Online activity varies by category, however, three specific online activities consistently rank highly:

  • Looking at product information
  • Checking or comparing prices
  • Searching for promotions or coupons

Fashion is the top category purchased online in every region except for the US and Canada. Travel products are also among the top five categories and consumers purchased products in durable categories such as electronics, apparel and furniture than products in consumable categories.

While US internet user growth has remained flat over the past year, China, Russia, India and Brazil have experienced impressive growth rates of 14%, 16%, 13% and 16% respectively.

The Asia Pacific (APAC) region is currently the powerhouse of global eCommerce retail market surpassing 1 trillion dollars in revenue in 2015, and China is the leader of the pack – accounting for over $766.5 billion, nearly three-quarters of the region’s online sales.

India, Australia, Japan and China generated around US$604 billion in eCommerce sales between them in 2014. Together these four countries are expected to generate US$1,762 trillion by the end of 2018.

Countries in the APAC region also have the most prolific online shoppers, with more than 90% of the populations of New Zealand, Australia, Taiwan, Japan and Korea having purchased online, according to NielsenWire.

China and the US accounted for US$1.6 trillion in eCommerce revenue in 2017 – that’s almost 70% of global eCommerce revenue. Furthermore, the APAC market saw a 30% growth rate of 30% in 2017 becoming the leader of global eCommerce development – driven by a high volume of mobile commerce sales.

Amazon has been a major influence on the shift towards consumers moving to digital shopping channels in Western markets including, the US and the UK. More than a quarter (28%) of Amazon shoppers worldwide said they shopped less often at retail stores because of Amazon. While this number was higher in the US (37%), a further 10% of respondents said that they only shop on Amazon.

While the eCommerce landscape may seem like one that of acquisition, there’s still space for niche brands and specialist retailers to thrive in the market.


Technology is playing a key role in how are devices enable consumers to purchase goods and services online. In fact, eWallet transactions were the number one global payment method in 2015 thanks to APAC customers and will continue to rank first by 2020.

Global Payment Methods Breakdown

Source: Worldpay

While eWallet transactions will continue to make up 30% of alternative payments in 2020 to become mainstream payment methods, traditional debit and credit cards will still remain popular due to NFC technology  -giving cards a new lease of life as a convenient payment option.

In countries such as China and India, mobile will continue to be the driving force behind eCommerce growth. It is imperative that online retailers research these alternative payments options preferred by consumers in different territories.

Customer Service

Interestingly, 58% of consumers from 10 global countries want to speak to a sales rep while shopping online, according to Cisco Systems. Broken down, 30% would like to do this via instant messaging, 28% via email and 28% by phone.

In a survey of customers in the US, UK, France, Germany, Italy and Australia, 40% said they expect to access help online within five minutes, while 31% expect it immediately.

The most popular online help sources customers would like to see range from offering a telephone number to call a customer service department and the ability to email customers services, to live video chat and an automatic call back feature.

Help sources that customers would like to see

Source: LivePerson

When consumers want post-purchase customer care, internet sites are the most important digital channel, while the Department of Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS) says more than 60% of shoppers are less likely to return goods purchased online, compared to goods purchased on the high street.

Mobile commerce

Mobile commerce made up 34% of all eCommerce transactions globally in 2016 and grew by 31% in 2017 which isn’t surprising when you consider mobile internet traffic surpassed desktop globally back in 2016.

With Google’s algorithm rewarding mobile-friendly websites and penalising sites that aren’t fully optimised for mobile in search results, it’s imperative that retailers align their overall eCommerce strategies to meet mobile users expectations. Bad navigation is considered the most annoying issue customers encounter when interacting with brands via mobile.

Another mobile trend common amongst online shoppers is showrooming. Customers frequently use their smartphone devices to compare prices, asking friends or family for recommendations, take photos, note down product details, look up product information, check if a product is available at another retailer or check if a product is easier to order online.

Globally there are many activities in the mobile path to purchase. In the store, these include reading reviews, comparing prices, checking out social media buzz, scanning barcodes or QR codes for more information, redeeming a mobile coupon or receiving a deal by interacting with an ad.

But with mobile conversion rates still lower than desktop, it seems consumers use their mobile devices more for discovery and converting on desktop instead. As a result, it’s extremely important for retailers not to ignore mobile visitors and nurture their experiences with a retail brand by optimising the mobile versions of their sites.

RELATED: Bridging the Gap Between Mobile and Desktop eCommerce Customers

However, security in Western markets is the biggest concern for customers who may potentially make mobile payments, but with global mobile commerce revenue projected to reach $669 billion in 2018, it’s an exciting and important time for retailers to engage with mobile customers.

Countries and regions


Internet Penetration

There are over 139 million internet users in Brazil representing the largest internet market in Latin America and the fourth largest internet market in the world.

Over 23% of internet users are aged 25-34 according to Statista, with almost 21% aged between 35-44 and 22% aged between 15-24. While internet and mobile penetration rates have increased in Brazil, national wireless networks are still relatively small compared to other markets. As a result, over 67% of internet traffic in Brazil came from desktop in December 2017.

eCommerce Market

Online retail sales generated more than 49 billion Brazilian reais in 2017, more than doubling expected sales of 22.5 billion Brazilian reais in 2012. Brazil is the largest and most advanced eCommerce market in Latin America and is also evolving quickly. In fact, Brazil represents 42% of all B2C eCommerce in Latin America, according to PagBrasil.

Source: PagBrasil

Previously most online shoppers belonged to the upper middle class, but online shopping has expanded beyond this group and is now mainstream.

While PagBrasil notes that fashion and accessories are the leading categories in terms of number of transactions, household appliances ranks first in terms of revenue (23%), followed by telecom/mobile (21%), electronics (12.4%), IT (9.5%) home and decoration (7.7%) and fashion and accessories (5.6%).

Historically, Brazil has lagged behind other BRIC countries in terms of internet infrastructure, and during the first decade of the 21st century, limited availability of high-speed internet was a major problem, especially in rural regions.

However, with the full rollout of broadband connectivity in 2010 and the influx of affordable smartphones, the number of consumers purchasing goods and services online is expected to grow from over 60 million in 2016 to 95 million by 2021. As a result, Brazil’s eCommerce market, which generated $16billion US dollars in 2016, is expected to reach over $31 billion by 2022.


Russia leads Europe in terms of internet usage according to Internet World Stats, with over 109 million users in June 2017. But what’s interesting is while laptops are considered the most important device for getting online for Russians, internet access via mobile device has increased dramatically, rising from 56% in 2014 to 68% in 2016 – compared to a mere 1% increase to 90% using personal desktop or laptop devices.

It’s clear that while mobile devices are more popular for accessing the internet traditional devices still play a vital role in the lives of the Russian population.

In Russia, the central region has the most amount of internet users followed by Volga Federal District and Urals Federal District.

eCommerce Market

According to PayPal, Russian internet users have become more accustomed to online shopping with a 6% increase in internet users purchasing goods online rising to 72%. Online payments are also as normal using a debit or credit card in high street stores with 84% of internet users making online payments wither with a credit card, online banking or eWallet.


Online behaviour is stable and hardly depends on macro economical flucuations

Source: PayPal

Online payments are as normal as paying with bank card in offline shops

Source: PayPal

When broken down by category, electronics and household appliances along with books and disks have shown the most YoY growth compared to categories such as clothing and footwear and cosmetics & perfumes.

Books and electronics are the most popular categories of goods sold online

Source: PayPal

Free delivery options and a fast checkout process are the top influences to persuade Russian online shoppers to purchase products online according to Global Web Index. It’s important that eCommerce retailers incentives Russian shoppers on localised sites just as they would with their Western customers.

Some of the most popular retail sites in Russia include, Aliexpress, Ozon, Eldorado, DNS-shop and MVideo


Internet Penetration

There are over 462 million internet users in India and it’s the second largest online market behind China. Over 77% of active internet users live in urban areas and users in middle incomes represent the largest market share of internet users (35%).

There are over 196 million social networking users in India – that number’s predicted to increase to over 370 million by 2022. Over 13 million households are now connected via broadband and the Indian government expects numbers to increase to 600 million by 2020.

While broadband internet connections are low compared to Western markets, 79% of India’s internet traffic from its 462 million internet users is driven by mobile. Although India saw a 23% rise in internet users in the last year alone, its average internet connection speed of 4.1mbps is considered quite slow compared to the global average of 6.3mbps.

While Indians spend an average of 8 hours online a day – more than the Chinese six-and-a-quarter hours – it’s believed that a large part of that time is waiting for pages to load or videos to download.

eCommerce retailers who localise in India will need to ensure that their website optimisation strategies are able to accommodate the lower internet speeds in the region.

eCommerce Market

In November 2016, the Indian Government unexpectedly demonetised high-value banknotes aimed to stop counterfeiting and clamp down on the black market economy. While this swift move initially slowed down the online retail market – 50% of orders are driven by cash on delivery – pure play giants Amazon and Alibaba seem to be battling for the top spot for shoppers in India.

Alibaba invested in Indian mobile payment service, Paymt and Amazon have invested over $2 billion into its Indian-based operations since 2014.

RELATED: Understanding the Quirks of India’s eCommerce Market

China is the largest market for eCommerce globally, followed by the US. But with over $681 billion in online retail sales in 2016, India is one of the fastest growing. It’s estimated that online retail sales in India will reach $64 billion by 2021, growing at a five-year compound annual growth rate of 31.2%.


Internet Penetration

China has over 738 million internet users – that’s nearly the entire population of Europe – representing over 53% of the overall population. Furthermore, 95% of internet users access the internet via a mobile device, which means half of China’s 1.4 billion population use the internet via mobile.

There’s slightly more male (54%) than female (46%) internet users in China, with more than two-thirds of the online population is aged between 16 and 34 years old, according to Global Web Index.

The number of smartphone shipments has steadily increased since 2011, and in 2016 over 450 million smartphones were shipped. China’s huge smartphone adoption is due to increased competition with Chinese mobile phone manufacturers in which many of the country’s population are now able to have access to more affordable smartphones as well.

The global smartphone market grew 9.1% in the first quarter of 2016, and growth is being driven by a trio of Chinese device makers.

eCommerce Market

As the world’s largest eCommerce market, China is the growth engine behind global eCommerce transactions generating $1.13 trillion in 2017 – that’s more than 23% of total retail sales. This unprecedented growth is expected to be seen well into the future where over 40% of total retail sales in China will be from eCommerce channels by 2021.

This tremendous growth is due to the widespread popularity of mobile commerce and the dominance of local eCommerce giants, Tmall and Alibaba’s Taobao who take the lion share of eCommerce sales in the Chinese market.

RELATED: China’s Bullish Approach to Cross-Border eCommerce

Smartphones have begun to replace traditional desktop computers for many Chinese internet users, and in response, many local and international brands have created their own apps or diversified their marketing channels to create commerce-enabled brand profiles on popular messaging apps.

WeChat, China’s most popular messaging app, is used by 1 in 3 Chinese internet users who are able to order takeout or a taxi, pay for eCommerce purchases and book a doctor’s appointment all within the WeChat ecosystem. WeChat shows that the Chinese market is far ahead of the West when it comes to social commerce.

In order to keep up with consumers appetite for purchasing goods and services on mobile, its common for many brands to launch localised marketing campaigns on WeChat and on China’s top eCommerce platforms offering carefully selected products aimed for the market.

RELATED: WeChat Marketing: Effective Strategies for Your Brand in China

China became the L’oréal’s second biggest market in terms of sales, ahead of France and behind the US. The French-based cosmetics brand has fully adapted to China’s unique and continuously evolving digital landscape as well as its Chinese consumers.

The brand has made considerable developments with its Tmall and WeChat offering, has acquired Chinese cosmetics brands and continues to invest in local R&D to produce products that appeal to its target audience.

Another factor increasingly influencing Chinese eCommerce customers is social media. In fact, 22% of Chinese consumers use social media immediately when using their smartphones each time, making social media the second most used function on smartphones in the region behind messaging apps, according to Deloitte.

Chinese consumers rely heavily on reviews and recommendations from their friends, family and peers on social media platforms before purchasing goods and services. They’re also prone to paying more attention to the detail in reviews – as well as celebrity endorsements – rather than star ratings. Winning the social media game with the best reviews and recommendations is vital for success in the Chinese market.

United States

Internet Penetration

There were over 320 million internet users in the United States accounting for nearly 88% of the country’s population. While internet penetration is considerably high compared to some markets, US internet penetration rates have reached saturation with relatively small incremental increases over the last few years.

In spite of this, the US is one of the largest smartphone markets in the world with one of the highest smartphone penetration rates worldwide. In 2017, smartphone penetration was almost 69% and is predicted to reach 80% by 2022, according to recent studies.

In the wake of serious data breaches by companies such as Equifax, eBay and Sony’s PlayStation Network, US internet users have become particularly tech-savvy and more privacy-aware. Many consumers are well versed in using tools to improve their overall online experiences, including the use of ad blockers and deleting cookie data on a regular basis.

eCommerce Market

In 2017, eMarketer reported that US eCommerce retail sales reached over $457 billion dollars and is expected to peak at just over $684 by 2020. Healthy annual growth in the US is being led by eCommerce giants Amazon and eBay, making the country the second largest eCommerce market in the world behind China.

It’s estimated that Amazon controls a staggering 43.5% share of the US eCommerce market equating to $196.75 billion per year, while eBay accounts for around 6.8%.

Mergers and acquisitions made a huge impact in the eCommerce market in 2017 including Amazon’s $13 billion acquisition of Whole Foods Market and PetSmart’s acquisition of – the largest e-Commerce acquisition to date. Its predicted that several more acquisitions are likely to come as we inch closer to 2020.

As smartphone use continues to rise and the technology behind them becomes more advanced, mobile optimisation has become an important focus for online retailers – especially as brands continue to target younger audiences where smartphones are the primary device for going online.

In Q3 of 2017, mobile commerce accounted for 23% of total digital commerce spending in the US. Data from Statista predicts that this figure is expected to rise to 50% of all eCommerce sales by 2020.

Mobile-optimised websites, mobile wallet integrations, optimising check out pages and mobile retail apps are just a number of ways in which retailers have adapted to encourage customers to purchase goods and services via their smartphone devices. Furthermore, smartphones users also use their devices to track orders they’ve purchased, compare products on the go and research products – even while they’re contemplating making a purchase in-store.

Black Friday and Cyber Monday are now the of biggest online shopping events of the year in the US today. As the first shopping day of the holiday season, retailers all over the country offer huge discounts (of almost 70% in some cases) on Black Friday – the day after Thanksgiving.

The shopping event has become so popular that discounts are usually launched the day before, and last all throughout the weekend until Cyber Monday, where online discounts are at their highest.

In 2017, Black Friday generated over $5 billion online – an increase of over 16% compared to the previous year. Similarly, Cyber Monday also made a 16% increase the same year, generating over $6.5 billion.

As the country’s biggest online retailer, Amazon was reported to have accounted for 55% of all online Black Friday transactions making the online retailer one of the sought-after online destinations to find last minute deals.

Key Takeaways

Shoppers are willing to buy goods online from foreign retailers

There are variations in international markets, however, almost half of online shoppers have purchased from overseas stores.

Ensure your eCommerce store offers preferred payment options

Payment preferences differ around the world and the rise of alternative payment options shouldn’t be ignored.

Online customer service should not be an afterthought

Customer service is still important online, especially when you consider that 58% of shoppers expect to talk to someone about their online purchase.

Bricks-and-mortar operations can help support online sales

The rate of mobile commerce is rising rapidly, though problems with navigation still exist in this area, while mobile showrooming is a growing trend and area for innovation.

Focus on customer retention

The average purchase value of repeat and returning visitors is far greater than typical visitors, highlighting the need for robust e-CRM programs to maximize the value gained from this segment.

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