Business e-commerce sales and the role of online platforms

UNCTAD Technical notes on ICT for development, No. 1

This technical note presents the latest statistics on the value of e-commerce sales by businesses. It benefits from a notable increase in availability brought about by the release, by Eurostat, of figures for many EU and partner countries.

In 2021, approaching US$ 25 trillion of e-commerce sales were generated by businesses across 43 developed and developing economies accounting for around three quarters of worldwide GDP. This represents a 15 per cent increase over pre-pandemic (2019) levels and sales are estimated to have risen a further 10 per cent - to almost $27 trillion - in 2022.

The share of business turnover generated through e-commerce varies widely in the economies analysed, from less than one per cent to as much as 30 per cent. In almost all cases, the majority of e-commerce sales by businesses are made to other businesses or organizations. In most, the share of business-to-consumer sales is less than a quarter.

While developing economies generate around 40 per cent of global GDP, their share in business e-commerce sales is considerably lower.

The bulk of e-commerce sales across these 43 developed and developing economies, which also account for around three quarters of exports globally, occur between buyers and sellers resident in the same economic territory. It is estimated that digitally ordered exports (i.e. international e-commerce sales) from these economies were worth around $2.5 trillion in 2021. This equates to around 13 per cent of total exports of goods and services. However, as there is limited data on digitally ordered trade, this estimate is relatively uncertain.

Statistics on online retail sales, a subset of business-to-consumer e-commerce, share the same pattern of rapid growth that was boosted during the pandemic. This growth moderated somewhat in 2023 as pandemic restrictions and disruptions abated. China, the United Kingdom, and the Republic of Korea stand out for having markedly higher online retail sales than other economies, at around 25 to 30 per cent of all retail sales. The United States follows at around 15 per cent while the bulk of economies fall in a range of roughly 5-10 per cent.

Digital intermediary platforms (DIPs) are key players in the e-commerce landscape. The value of transactions through 37 major DIPs increased by over 55 per cent during the pandemic.

The Task Group on Measuring E-commerce Value (TG-eCOM), convened by UN Trade and Development, brings together various countries covered in this report, as well as international organizations, to develop internationally agreed guidelines and recommendations that can serve as a basis for capacity building and technical assistance to improve the availability and comparability of statistics on e-commerce.

Business e-commerce sales and the role of online platforms - UNCTAD Technical notes on ICT for development, No. 1  (UNCTAD/DTL/ECDE/2024/3 )
13 Jun 2024