US-based Amazon.com Inc. and China’s Alibaba Group Holding Ltd. remain the global leaders in cross-border e-commerce, but the US and China have lost market share to other countries in recent years, according to the latest survey of cross-border online shopping from the International Post Corporation, a consortium of national postal services.
Asked where they made their last purchase from a retail website outside their home country, 27% of consumers said Amazon while 17% cited Alibaba’s AliExpress marketplace, which mainly offers inexpensive goods from Chinese manufacturers. The results are based on an October 2022 survey of 33,009 consumers in 39 countries who had made at least one cross-border online purchase in the previous three months.
Amazon’s share ticked up from 25% in the similar IPC survey conducted in 2019, the last year before the COVID-19 pandemic struck. AliExpress was slightly down from 20% in the 2019 survey.
EBay declined to 9% in 2022 from 14% in 2019. Wish, a US-based marketplace that features mostly inexpensive goods from China and elsewhere, fell to 5% from 11%. Two retailers not mentioned in the 2019 IPC report were among the leaders in the latest survey: Shein Group Ltd., the Chinese fast-fashion retailer, accounted for 6% of most-recent purchases. German online apparel merchant and marketplace operator Zalando accounted for 3%.
Amazon is No. 3 in the Digital Commerce 360 Global Online Marketplace Database, which ranks marketplaces by total value, or gross merchandise value of sales. eBay is No. 5, AliExpress No. 15, Wish No. 16 and Zalando No. 24. Shein is No. 36 in the Digital Commerce 360 2022 Asia Database, which ranks Asia-based retailers by their online sales.
Why the US attracted a smaller share of cross-border e-commerce
Despite Amazon’s strong showing, US e-retailers overall are losing ground in cross-border ecommerce. The US accounted for only 10% of survey respondents’ last cross-border online purchase in 2022. That’s down from 11% in 2019 and 15% in 2016, according to IPC.
“The strong US dollar made US-made goods more expensive in recent years, which accounts for part of the decline,” says Jim Okamura, digital practice lead at retail consulting firm McMillanDoolittle and co-founder of the Global Ecommerce Leaders Forum, which brings retailers together and brands that sell internationally online. “Plus, the rapid deployment of e-commerce for any brand or retailer who wanted to survive during COVID greatly expanded domestic choice to a level where consumers had less need to go out of the country for certain products.”
China led the way, accounting for 30% of shoppers’ last foreign online buy. That was down from 36% in 2019, but an increase from 26% in 2016.
Germany gained ground during the pandemic, increasing to 14% of shoppers’ last cross-border purchase. That’s up from 12% in 2019. The UK went in the other direction, slipping to 10% in 2022 from 13% in 2019. Those shifts likely reflect European Union shoppers buying less from the UK post-Brexit, now that they have to pay customs duties that are not charged by retailers in EU member states, such as Germany.
Consumers will shop more online, but not necessarily from the US
Looking ahead, 74% of shoppers said they expect to purchase more from domestic retail websites, including 24% who said they expect to purchase much more. Meanwhile, only 6% expect to buy less (2% much less). But US retail websites won’t see as much growth, as only 39% expect to shop more with US e-retailers (8% much more), while 35% will shop less (16% much less.)
The biggest increase is in shoppers saying they will buy more from neighboring countries: 58% say they will buy more from retail websites in countries next door, including 10% much more, and only 11% less (3% much less).
“In countries with less-developed e-commerce, where there isn’t sufficient selection or competition among sellers, consumers look to neighboring countries where the ‘grass is greener’ and therefore more attractive to shop there,” Okamura says.
Shoppers buy apparel and footwear from international websites
Clothing and apparel are the most frequently purchased cross-border. 36% cited them as the products they bought during their most recent cross-border purchase. That was followed by consumer electronics and accessories (20%) and personal care and beauty (16%).
“The category to watch is personal care and beauty — the combination of greater consumer demand and more cross-border sellers should see this grow,” says Kent Allen, principal at consulting firm The Research Trust and co-founder of the Global Ecommerce Leaders Forum . “It’s also a category where social content is exploding and new direct-to-consumers brands, for example, ‘clean beauty’ brands are free of harmful chemicals and wellness brands, should drive above-average growth.”
Consumers in the Americas were most likely to buy clothing and footwear from retail websites in other countries. Meanwhile, South Americans frequently buy consumer electronics cross-border and Asian shoppers buy personal care products, IPC says.
Most cross-border ecommerce purchases are relatively inexpensive
Other findings from the IPC survey include:
- 50% of purchases were valued at 50 euros ($55) or less. Only 6% of purchases were above 100 euros in value.
- 37% of respondents said they received their last cross-border purchase within five days, but 38% said it took 10 days or longer.
- 79% of cross-border shoppers were made aware of any customs fees at the time of purchase. 50% paid those fees while making the online purchase, 30% while the package was en route and 16% upon delivery.
- 10% returned all or part of their most recent cross-border purchase. The return rate was highest in China (25%), New Zealand and Switzerland (both 22%) and the US (21%). 75% said their returns were free, with the highest rate of free returns provided by Zalando, Amazon and Shein.
- 73% of consumers said they would wait a few days longer for a package to arrive to reduce the environmental impact of the delivery, including 30% who strongly agree with that statement. But 72% agree (29% strongly) that it’s the responsibility of the online retailer, not the consumer, to cover the costs of sustainable delivery.
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