The e-commerce boom ignited by the COVID-19 pandemic appears to have more staying power than initially thought. As the world grappled with retail closures and health concerns, online shopping surged to the forefront, accounting for 21% of total retail sales in 2021, up from 15% in 2019. While in-person shopping has resumed, experts believe that e-commerce still has significant room for growth, with the market poised to reach an estimated $5.4 trillion by 2026, up from its current $3.3 trillion valuation.
Brian Nowak, an equity analyst specializing in the U.S. internet industry, asserts, “We believe that the Covid-driven bump will not flatten future e-commerce growth.” Nowak envisions e-commerce capturing 27% of retail sales by 2026, reflecting a trend seen globally where there appears to be no upper limit to e-commerce penetration.
Several factors contribute to this sustained growth. Logistics improvements, the widespread ownership of mobile devices, and the expansion of online marketplaces all play a pivotal role. This continuous upward trajectory presents opportunities for diverse businesses, regions, and sectors, despite stock valuations not fully accounting for the potential expansion.
The digital commerce surge marks a lasting shift in shopping habits. Even in countries with established e-commerce practices, the trend is expected to continue. In South Korea, for instance, where online sales constitute 37% of all retail activity, the number could rise to 45% over the next five years. In the U.S., e-commerce might grow to 31% of sales by 2026, propelled by convenience-focused consumers and store closures.
Andrew Ruben, an expert in retail and e-commerce in Latin America, anticipates barriers to online shopping falling in various countries and verticals. This is particularly evident in newer segments such as beauty, apparel, and grocery, which are experiencing significant digital sales growth.
Technological advancements, including enhanced digital payment methods and improvements in supply chain and fulfillment processes, further bolster the e-commerce landscape. Such enhancements enhance customer experiences and reshape consumer behaviors.
In emerging markets, internet adoption and connectivity are potent catalysts. Younger populations in countries like Colombia and Brazil spend considerable time online daily, creating a substantial opportunity for retailers to tap into this online-savvy demographic.
The surge in e-commerce that began as a response to a global crisis has evolved into a transformative trend with the potential to reshape the retail landscape and consumer behavior for years to come.