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UN study: Online sales boom during pandemic, lockdowns

May 3, 2021

A study by the UNCTAD said online sales accounted for almost a fifth of turnover last year. One online retail giant in Africa, Berlin-based Jumia, stood out for a stellar first half of 2020.

A young woman with her laptop in Russia. Symbolfoto
Online sales went up to 19% of all retail sales in 2020Image: Imago Images/Cavan Images

A study conducted by the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) found that online sales accounted for nearly a fifth of retail turnover in seven industrialized countries in 2020. 

The COVID-19 pandemic and subsequent lockdowns that were imposed last year were responsible for the rise. Online sales accounted for 19% of overall retail sales in 2020, a respectable increase from 16% the previous year, based on a survey conducted in major economies. 

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"Although it will take some time to get the full picture of the impact of COVID-19 on e-commerce, a number of developments point to the strong rise in e-commerce in 2020," said the study.

The study included data from Australia, Britain, Canada, China, Singapore, South Korea and the US. These countries are responsible for around two-thirds of online trade worldwide.

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Online sales rose 59% in Australia, 46.7% in Britain, 32.4% in the US, and 14.6% in China.

The turnover increased by 22.4% last year to $2.5 trillion, having increased by some 15% in 2018 and 2019. Retail sales overall declined by 1% year on year. 

Data by gross merchandise volume put China's Alibaba at the top, followed by US giant Amazon.  

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Data from the 13 top e-commerce companies showed a significant drop for companies offering services such as ride hailing and travel. Eleven of these companies are from the US and China. 

"These statistics show the growing importance of online activities," the report's author, Torbjorn Fredriksson, told AFP.

He mentioned that Jumia, Africa's online retail giant was an outlier, whose transactions jumped by more than 50% in the first six months of 2020. 

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Shamika Sirimanne, head of UNCTAD's technology and logistics section, said this data could prove useful for companies, especially in the developing world, as they rebuild after the effects of the pandemic. 

tg/msh (AFP, Reuters)