Online retailers enjoyed a stellar year in 2013 as consumers worldwide turned to the Internet in search of more attractive deals. Especially notable was the expansion of e-commerce shopping across different platforms giving consumers increased flexibility to view items on their mobile devices and to buy on the go. As a result, merchants that developed mobile sites were able to increase sales. Significant growth in e-commerce was also noticed in many international markets, helping boost revenues worldwide. The question remains what kind of conclusions can be extrapolated from the past year moving forward? In reviewing data from experts at MarketingProfs and PriceGong, a clear shift was seen in the way the e-commerce marketplace has bounced back into a prime position.
A Return to Growth
Probably one of the most exciting points that have been uncovered in reviewing online sales in 2013, is how the sector has fought its way back after a couple of tough years for merchants. Since the recession began in 2008, shoppers, in general, have spent less with a consistently growing percentage of purchases made online. In fact, many consumers have turned to comparison shopping apps like PriceGong to make their hard earned dollars go further when shopping online.
With that said, there appears to be a general shift in purchasing behaviour towards expanded buying. Major retailers reported unprecedented growth, showing some of the strongest sales since before the recession. This was surprising as the report noted the shift even before economic indicators normally associated with higher spending rates such as the employment rate in the United States started to show significant improvements. In an August 2013 report, merchants were already reporting growth of 18.5% during the second quarter (Q2) in comparison with the same time period of the previous year.
However it was the Christmas shopping season where 2013 was really able to shine. In the US, the whirlwind buying storm that is Thanksgiving, Black Friday, and Cyber Monday helped to grow e-commerce by 24%, reaching an astounding $4.6 billion. This expansion of online shopping was also enjoyed on the other side of the pond with the UK reporting its most impressive statistics ever on Boxing Day, citing a 40.4% increase in sales over those made in 2012. Latin America also joined the e-commerce market in a big way during 2013 as the growing middle class in many countries opened up to buying online. The expansion of Internet access and credit card use for international buying have helped to push this growth. In particular, Brazil has emerged as one of the leaders in the region for e-commerce penetration with over 50 million active shoppers expected to have shopped online by the end of 2013.
Who Were the Big Winners?
According to a report covering end users by the price comparison service PriceGong, the major retailers Amazon, eBay, and Walmart made up a whopping 67.6% of total sales for 2013, with Amazon leading the pack with 30.61% of the market share. Amazon was a clear winner on Cyber Monday with 36.8 million orders made in the single day. The number of sellers using Amazon’s services to carry out their sales in 2013 grew 65% from those using its marketplace in 2012. Many consumers also took the additional step of joining Amazon’s Prime service, wherein they receive incentives like free shipping and streaming media for an annual fee. Unofficial estimates put the numbers of those who joined Prime in the millions, with some claiming that over a million people joined in the third week of December alone.
Changing Consumer Behaviour - Moving to Mobile
Shifting perceptions from the public have played a key role in helping to boost e-commerce sales. According to a report by Walker Sands, consumers with Internet access appear more comfortable making their purchases online with 62% of those in the study claiming that they buy online at least once a month. They also seem to be expanding the range of items that they are willing to buy via the Internet.
Unsurprisingly, the most commonly bought items online are electronics. The report showed that electronics made up 69% of all purchases made by those interviewed in their study, followed by books (67%) and clothing (63%). What was interesting was that only 1% of consumers stated that they never buy anything online.
While consumers are showing increased openness to buying online in general, the real highlight of 2013 was the big move to mobile. A report from comScore researchers found that by June of 2013, 55% of the time consumers spent on merchant sites was carried out over mobile devices often using apps like PriceGong to find better deals. These numbers were further boosted during the Christmas season with 24% growth between Thanksgiving, Black Friday, and Cyber Monday, bringing retailers nearly $4.6 billion in sales. In line with much of the data throughout 2013, consumer use of tablets led to double the amount of mobile conversions over smartphones, despite their holding a smaller percentage of the market share.
Lessons Learned Moving Forward
Overall, merchants succeeded in capitalizing on the movement by consumers from their desktops to their mobile devices by offering a more nimble way to access potential shoppers and boost conversions. Add to this the expansion of buying online in new markets, as well as the tail end of the recession in countries such as the US and UK, which have proved to retailers that they are ready again to break out their wallets in return for good deals online.
Perhaps above all else, as PriceGong’s data has shown, 2013 was a year of hope for the return to prosperity in what turned out to be a very lucrative year for the e-merchant community. This trend is predicted to continue well into the future.