Interestingly, the first e-commerce sales occurred in 1994, meaning that shopping online is around 25 years old, pre-dating some of the shoppers included in several of our statistics for this article! Let’s take a look first at some general information about online purchases.
Later on we’ll dig deeper into the data and break things down by gender, age group, and socio-economic status, to name a few.
We’re starting with a look at some general online shopping numbers before we dive into the details. In 2015, roughly 80 percent of Americans surveyed said that they had purchased goods online.
Worldwide, $2.8 trillion dollars was spent online in 2018, more than double the $1.3 trillion spent just four years earlier.
*2019-2021 dollar amounts are estimates
As you can see from the chart above, online sales have steeply increased globally since 2016, rising from $1.3 trillion in 2014 to $2.8 trillion in 2018. Those numbers are only expected to increase in the near future. In 2018, over $7.9 billion in online sales happened on Cyber Monday alone.
So how does that break down by country and region? Who are the top online shoppers worldwide? The charts below show the top ten countries when it comes to online spending, and which global regions are spending the most.
The chart above shows that online shoppers in China and the United States spent significantly more than online shoppers in the rest of the top ten countries around the world. This is probably mostly due to the fact that both the United States and China have much larger populations than the other countries on this list.
When it comes to regional spending, the numbers fall along fairly similar lines.
As you can see, led by Chinese consumers’ online spending totals, Asia had the highest online spending of all regions, followed by North America, led by the large amount spent by online consumers in the United States.
European consumers ranked third in online spending, which makes sense considering that three of the top ten nations in our online spending chart were the United Kingdom, Germany, and France.
During 2016 and 2017, more than half of online shoppers worldwide purchased items from retailers based in another country. Interestingly, in the United States, less than half of all online shoppers had purchased something internationally. The chart below breaks this down a little more.
As you can see, the global average for purchasing items online from another country was 57 percent; however, in the United States, only 47 percent of online consumers made a purchase from a retailer in another country.
Europeans shoppers were higher than the global average, with 63 percent of shoppers making online purchases from another country.
For the U.S., these lower percentages could be due to a number of factors, including the widespread availability of a plethora of items in America that may not be readily available in other countries, cost of shipping the item internationally, and/or U.S. Customs regulations.
According to the United States Customs website, certain overseas goods may be “restricted”. Restricted items typically include foods, cultural artifacts, and copyrighted items, as well as anything purchased from a country subject to a trade embargo by the U.S.
Did you know, for instance, that it’s illegal to import dairy products from certain countries without a permit?
In addition, while most items purchased for personal use don’t have quotas (a limit on the number you can import), did you know that custom suits purchased from Hong Kong do have a quota?
Some goods are completely prohibited from being imported to the United States, meaning that once it reaches the U.S., it will be returned to the country of origin, destroyed, or permanently stored by the government, depending on the item and nature of the prohibition.
When in doubt, do a little research before buying something from an overseas retailer—especially if you’re thinking of purchasing food items.
You can always contact the nearest customs office to find out if the types of items you’re likely to order online have any restrictions, or if the countries you are wanting to make online purchases from are subject to any embargoes by the U.S.
Shopping by Channel
For the uninitiated, “channel” simply means the way you choose to shop—in a physical store, online, through your mobile devices, etc.
We wanted to find out which channel is most popular, and whether, based on prior history, that seems likely to continue to be the case. The three main channels we’ll focus on are tablets, laptops/desktops, and smartphones.
According to Statista, during the fourth quarter of 2018, the following amounts were spent online by channel.
As you can see from the chart above, those using a computer to make purchases spent more per purchase than those using any other channel. Tablets were next, with the average spent per purchase of $94.72. The “other” category includes things such as Smart TVs, gaming systems, and apps.
Although computers remain the most popular way to shop online, more and more people are using their mobile devices to make online purchases, as shown in the graph below.
As you can see, in 2010, of the total amount spent online in the United States, only an average of around 2 percent came from mobile device purchases. By 2017, around 23 percent of all online dollars were spent via mobile devices, a ten-fold increase from 2010.
In 2018, the total spent online in the United States was $504 billion; of that, nearly $207.2 billion was spent via a mobile device, or around 41 percent of the total amount spent, another huge leap for mobile devices! This is nearly double the amount spent using mobile devices just the year before.
If mobile devices are becoming such a popular tool to use for online purchases, then why isn’t everyone using them? We take a closer look at some of the most popular reasons given below.
For both tablet and smartphone users, most (45 and 44 percent, respectively) would just rather use their computers to make online purchases. The second most popular reason purchasers didn’t use their smartphones to make online purchases (nearly 37 percent) was that the site was too hard to navigate using their phones. Google says 61% of users are unlikely to return to a mobile site they had trouble accessing and 40% visit a competitor’s site instead.
Tablet users’ second most popular reason for not using their mobile device (nearly 30 percent) was that they had security concerns using that device to make an online purchase.
More than a quarter of tablet and smartphone users didn’t like the fact that the site they wanted to purchase from tried to make them create an account in order to complete their purchase.
We also looked at the most popular e-commerce apps in the United States, and the chart below shows the percentage of online consumers using each app for the month of March 2019.
It might seem obvious that Amazon would be the most popular app used by online consumers, with Walmart’s and eBay’s apps running a distant second and third. How much, if any, of that usage is affected by social media?
Let’s take a look!
Social Media’s Impact
With the rise of social media’s importance in our everyday lives comes an increased impact in online shopping. Marketers and online retailers already use targeted ads on sites like Facebook and Instagram, but how else is social media affecting online sales?
We wanted to learn more, and here’s what we discovered.
In 2017, 74 percent of Americans used social media to make shopping decisions. Social influencers, especially, have a strong impact on what brands or products their followers are willing to try.
Consumers are also more willing to share product reviews and their experiences with a service on their social media accounts, not just through sites like Yelp! or a company’s website. In fact, 80 percent of respondents stated that they’d be more likely to buy a product if a friend recommended it to them.
Sites like Instagram and Snapchat are also working on making it possible to upload credit card information to your account with those sites in order to make purchases on other websites.
In 2019, nearly 40 percent of social media users were currently following their favorite brands, making them among the first to get new product updates, news on sales, coupons, and new locations in their areas. And 25 percent said they were currently following brands they’re interested in making a purchase from.
While social media and smart devices seem to be everywhere right now, that’s not necessarily the case. Those in the lowest income brackets may not be in a position to afford these devices. We wondered if online spending habits were dictated by income, and examine that next.
Does someone’s economic status affect the way they shop? Is online shopping only for the middle class and above?
It will probably come as no surprise that those who had more money available to spend (high income earners) did more shopping online than their lower-income counterparts.
As shown in the above graph, only 20 percent of those making less than $30,000 per year shopped online regularly, while more than 60 percent of those in the highest income group shopped online regularly. That’s a more than 40 percent gap between the highest and lowest income earners.
This discrepancy indicates that 80 percent of lower-income shoppers could be missing out on items that can only be purchased online, items that could be purchased more cheaply online, or items that have more options available online (such as size, color, design).
It was unclear whether this gap was caused solely because of available income, or if there were other contributing factors, such as lack of access to the internet or reliable online devices for low-income households.
As stores continue to provide more online offerings, this could create a greater disparity between the haves and the have-nots in American society over time.
As with socio-economic status, we wanted to discover whether or not gender made a difference when it comes to online shopping.
Who shops online the most—men or women?
The split between male and female shoppers is fairly even—52 percent of online shoppers are women, while the remaining 48 percent of online shoppers are male.
Women tend to purchase online more often than men do, while men tend to spend more money per purchase than women do.
Those numbers are explored in more depth in the graph below.
When we refer to “tiers” in the chart above, we mean the amount of time spent shopping online per month.
The highest tier only includes the top 20 percent of all shoppers—spending the most amount of time shopping online per month. The lowest tier only includes the bottom 40 percent of all online shoppers—those who spent the least amount of time shopping online per month.
The middle tier includes the 40 percent of online shoppers in between the top and bottom tiers.
Of the top tier shoppers, 56 percent were women, and 44 percent were men.
Of the mid-tier shoppers, 58 percent were women and 42 percent were men, and of the low tier shoppers, 56 percent were men with only 44 percent being women.
So, in general, women tend to spend more time per month shopping online than their male counterparts, but men tend to spend more per purchase than women, averaging around $220 per purchase compared to women’s $151 per purchase.
But what about Millennials? How do Baby Boomers and Gen Xers compare when it comes to online shopping? We take a look below.
We know what you’re thinking: “Of course millennials are the largest group shopping online!” But is that really true?
First, we need to define the generations as they are used in this article. The studies we reviewed considered Baby Boomers to be those born between 1946 and 1965, while Gen Xers were born between 1966 and 1981.
Millennials were born between 1982 and 2001, meaning the youngest Millennials were 18 at the time of our article.
There may be overlap in how those born at the fringes of each generation identify themselves (the oldest among the Millennials may self-identify as Gen X, etc.)
The chart below breaks out spending by age group, but doesn’t include stats for Gen Z, the youngest shoppers out there.
As you can see, in 2018, Gen X was the generation doing the most online shopping, followed closely by Baby Boomers and then Millennials. And don’t count out those over the age of 75—they accounted for 5 percent of all online shopping last year.
We took a global look at each of these three generations, and the results are below.
While they may not make up the largest percentage of online shoppers, Baby Boomers more than make up for it by spending more per transaction, on average, than their younger peers.
Two-thirds of Baby Boomers preferred to use a computer for their online shopping needs, while only 4 percent preferred to use a smartphone.
Gen Xers and Millennials were nearly tied in their preference for computers, at 55 percent and 54 percent, respectively, and they were also nearly tied on not having a preferred device, with more than one-quarter of each group not caring how they shopped online.
Millennials took a slight lead over Gen X in their smartphone preferences, with 11 percent of Millennials compared to 8 percent of Gen Xers preferring to make online purchases with a smartphone.
Millennials were also the least likely to prefer using a tablet for online purchases, but they were not far from either the Boomers or Gen Xers, who only had a 10 percent and 9 percent preference for tablets respectively.
Boomers led the generations with more than half making their most recent online purchase at an online-only retailer, and were the fewest at just over one-quarter to have recently visited the website of a store with a physical location.
Millennial and Gen X online shoppers were tied or nearly tied in every category, with the same percentage most recently purchasing from a manufacturer or brand’s website, and almost the same percentage (a little over one-third for each group) making their most recent purchase from a physical store’s website.
They were also very close on purchasing something from an online-only retailer, with 48 percent of Millennials and 50 percent of Gen Xers making that their most recent purchase.
Surprisingly, though, the youngest shoppers (Gen Z) are more likely to shop in a physical store most of the time than they are to shop online most of the time. We break down a few Gen Z trends in the charts below. If these trends continue, Gen Z may be the generation that ushers in a brick-and-mortar revival.
When surveyed about their shopping habits, Gen Z respondents stated that they shop in a physical location “most of the time,” compared to only 22 percent who stated they used a web browser to shop “most of the time,” or an app (13 percent). Only 3 percent of Gen Z shoppers stated that they used a Smart TV to shop “most of the time.”
Only 2 percent of Gen Z shoppers stated that they “never” shop at a physical store. See how that compares to the other channels in the chart below.
In the chart above, we see that a larger percentage of Gen Z shoppers have never used a web browser, app, or Smart TV to shop than those who have never shopped in a physical location. In fact, 23 percent have never used a web browser, and 52 percent have never used an app.
We can’t read too much into these statistics, however, as these numbers could be due to age—some sites require shoppers to be at least 16 to checkout online, and parents may restrict their young shoppers’ access to shopping apps and websites until they are older.
So, what’s the profile of the best-of-the-best when it comes to shopping online? As we’ve already seen, Gen X tends to spend do the most online shopping, and women slightly edge out men when it comes to this category, as well. Could you fit the profile of the elusive “super shopper”?
The “Super Shopper”
What is a “super shopper”? According to the demographics, this is someone in the top 20 percent of all online shoppers in terms of time spent shopping online per month.
One study suggests this would be a 47 year-old female, spending around 44 hours per month shopping online, with a household income of less than $50,000 per year.
This “super shopper” also spends most of her online funds at one of four retailers: Amazon, Walmart, eBay, and Craigslist.
What about ethnicity? Does that have any impact on how a person chooses to shop?
According to a 2015 study of Americans conducted by the Pew Research Center, 42 percent of black shoppers used cash for all of their purchases in any given week, compared to 19 percent of white shoppers, and 28 percent of Latino shoppers.
Because of this reliance on cash only, fairly significant numbers of black shoppers may be missing out on items that can only be purchased online, that can be purchased more cheaply online, or that come with more options online (such as size, color, or design).
The same is true for the more than one-quarter of Latino shoppers, and nearly one-fifth of white shoppers who reported that they relied on cash to make purchases.
It was unclear from the study results why these shoppers relied more heavily on cash than their peers.
We next take a peek next at the types of industries from which consumers tend to make online purchases.
Type of Industry
Does the type of industry matter when it comes to online shopping? “Industry” for the purposes of this article means what type of product is being sold—such as groceries, books, electronics, etc. We examine that more closely in the graphics below.
In every region, travel was consistently in the top three, with 55 percent of consumers in the United States making travel purchases online, tied with books/music, and nearly tied with fashion (clothing and accessories) at 54 percent.
70 percent of consumers in Asia Pacific purchased travel online, followed very closely by fashion at 69 percent and then by IT/mobile device purchases at 55 percent, which did not make the top three in any other region.
In Eastern Europe, 44 percent of online shoppers bought event tickets online, which didn’t crack the top three in any other region.
Some of the fastest-growing industry types are noted below. None of these emerging markets have cracked the top three in their global regions yet, but if they continue to gain traction as quickly as they are now, they could easily be on next year’s list.
Groceries are marching up the list in both the Asian Pacific and North American regions, with 40 percent of Asia Pacific’s online consumers purchasing fresh groceries in 2018, and 44 percent purchasing pre-packaged groceries that same year.
In North America, 21 percent of online consumers purchased pre-packaged groceries in 2018.
Restaurant deliveries are becoming popular with online consumers in Eastern and Western Europe, as well as in Africa and the Middle East regions. Between 20 and 27 percent of online consumers in those regions paid for restaurant deliveries in 2018.
Finally, online video gaming purchases (including in-game purchases and video game equipment) is growing quickly in North America, Asia Pacific, and Africa and the Middle East. In these three regions, 20 to 34 percent of online consumers made video gaming purchases in 2018.
Many of you may have been surprised to learn that video games weren’t already in the top three (at least in North America).
Since ordering food online (either through restaurant deliveries or purchasing groceries) is a growing trend across every region, we decided to take a closer look.
In the United States, more and more Americans are purchasing groceries online—and there are many reasons for the uptick in online sales. Many large retailers now allow for online ordering and pick up at the store, or offer online ordering and home delivery.
And there are now several online-only companies in the United States, such as Blue Apron, Hello Fresh, Home Chef, and Plated (among many, many others!) that offer food kits for home delivery to make meals during the week.
In fact, the percentage of Americans who had recently purchased groceries online more than doubled between 2016 and 2017.
The online grocery industry is poised to be the next big thing in online sales, and was projected to make up 5 percent of the online market for 2018. That equates to $20 billion in estimated grocery sales.
Now that we know how much Americans are loving their online groceries, we next look specifically at which stores American shoppers were frequenting online the most often. (Travel sites were not considered “stores” for this graph.)
Seven of the top ten stores have both physical and online presences, while three of the top ten are online only, though the products they offer can also be sold by other retailers with physical locations.
Consumers were asked where they had purchased something at least once online. These stores beat out the competition to make the top ten.
Probably no one is shocked to see that 97 percent of all American online consumers have used Amazon at least once, followed by Walmart with 75 percent of all online consumers making purchases from their site at least once.
Target was third, with 57 percent, having nearly 20 percent fewer purchasers than Walmart and 40 percent less purchaser traffic than Amazon.
QVC and Costco rounded out the top ten with 20 percent and 18 percent of all online shoppers making at least one purchase from their e-commerce sites, respectively.
So is there anything online retailers can do to get more visitors to make purchases at their sites? We look at conversion rates below to find out.
While you may be aware of conversion rates in sports or currency, what exactly is a conversion rate when it comes to e-commerce? This simply means what percentage of people visiting a site actually purchased something from that site.
You might be surprised to learn that no category had conversion rates above 5 percent. That means that less than 5 percent of consumers visiting a website actually purchase something from that site. We break that data out in more detail in the charts below.
As you can see in the chart above for the third quarter of 2018, conversion rates, at best, were just over 4 percent, and at worst were less than half of one percent. That may seem dismal, but even with these conversion rates, e-commerce is still a $504 billion industry in the U.S.
We also looked at whether the type of platform someone was using affected conversion rates. The results are included in the graph below.
It should come as no surprise that the three most popular pc platforms (Windows, Chrome OS, and Macintosh) had higher conversion rates than the non-pc platforms since the previous graph showed that more users on pcs tend to make purchases on a site than non-pc users.
Interestingly, when it came online purchases made from computers, Windows users ended up making more purchases at visited sites than either Macintosh or Chrome users.
And iPhone users slightly edged out Android users when it came to making purchases at sites viewed using their mobile devices.
It’s unclear why these differences exist between platforms.
Then we wondered if the search tool or referring website mattered (where you saw the ad). So we looked at that, too. Apparently, it really does matter!
As you can see from the above data, those who found a site through AOL searches were more likely to make a purchase than those from any other method, at nearly 4.5 percent. Bing was next, with slightly over 3 percent of visitors who found a site through Bing making a purchase at that site.
Conversion rates could increase dramatically if online retailers took a good, hard look at why shoppers aren’t making purchases—as shown in the reasons shoppers abandon their online shopping carts below.
Rest easy, we’re not tackling anyone’s abandonment issues here—just looking at the reasons shoppers abandon their online shopping carts.
If you’ve ever abandoned your own online shopping carts, you’re not alone. Nearly 70 percent of consumers shopping online have done this. In fact, you probably have some specific examples in mind of times when you’ve abandoned your cart.
Most shoppers abandoned carts because they weren’t ready to make a purchase, or they were doing some online window shopping. Because there’s nothing an online retailer can do about that, those answers were not included in the chart below, leaving only the things (mostly) within an online retailer’s control.
As you can see from the chart above, the most common reason (55 percent) to abandon a shopping cart was because shipping, taxes, and additional fees were too high. One way online stores could combat this issue is to offer free shipping.
More than one-third of consumers (34 percent) didn’t like being forced to create an account to check out, so abandoned their carts instead of creating a new account. Retailers who allow customers to check out as guests instead of creating an account will gain some happy customers.
And more than one-quarter of shoppers (26 percent) weren’t happy about how complicated the website’s checkout process was. They gave up before they even got to the end.
It’s estimated that if the issues in the above chart were resolved, online retail sales would increase by $260 billion dollars, and conversion rates would skyrocket to just over 35 percent, a huge jump from the less than 5 percent conversion rate online retailers see today.
Ok, so no one knows what’s going to happen in the future, but here are five predictions about where online shopping is headed in the near future.
- Look for the continuing decline of big box retailers to drive traffic to online sellers that consumers might not have otherwise shopped at. The loss of some large niche retailers, like Toys ‘R Us, will lead consumers to new venues to meet their niche needs.
- The rise of social media as a purchasing platform. Instagram and Snapchat, for example, are working on making it possible to upload credit card information to your account for their sites.
- Older consumers will adopt their voice-assistant devices as their go-to shopping portals, appreciating the ease and convenience of simply telling Alexa, for example, to order more paper towels and set up home delivery.
- Get ready for the online grocery shopping revolution. As the trend for purchasing groceries increases exponentially, it may become the only way the majority of consumers buy their groceries in the near future.
- Finally, online retailers will start incorporating augmented reality into the purchase experience to engage the youngest shoppers and keep them interested in new products and tried-and-true brands.
In 2018, e-commerce was a $2.8 trillion dollar industry worldwide, and that growth shows no signs of stopping. Globalization is already here in the online realm, as more and more online consumers purchase goods from other countries.
Online grocery purchases are a hot trend right now but have yet to crack the top three online purchases of any global region, which mostly consist of travel, IT/mobile, fashion, book/music, and event ticket sales.
Keep your eyes peeled for new developments in the ever-changing world of online shopping—a world barely imagined 25 years ago when the first e-commerce transactions occurred.
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