Global e-commerce sales grew 13 per cent in 2017, hitting an estimated $29 tr, according to the latest statistics released by the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD). A similar surge was seen in the number of online shoppers, which jumped by 12 per cent and stood at 1.3 bn, or a quarter of the world’s population.

Though most Internet buyers purchased goods and services from domestic vendors, the share of those buying from abroad rose from 15 per cent in 2015 to 21 per cent in 2017. The growth was driven mainly by an increase in the United States, according to an UNCTAD release. As a result, cross-border business-to-consumer (B2C) sales reached an estimated $412 bn, accounting for almost 11 per cent of total B2C e-commerce­­–a 4 per cent increase on the previous year’s figures.

“The new figures show that e-commerce is indeed creating export opportunities,” UNCTAD Secretary-General Mukhisa Kituyi said. The eCommerce Week 2019, being held at the United Nation’s European headquarters in Geneva from 1 to 5 April, is discussing whether businesses in developing countries are prepared to seize the opportunities.

Little change has been seen in the list of the top ten e-commerce markets, with the United States holding on to its top position. At almost $9 tr, online sales in that country were three times higher than in Japan and more than four times higher than in China. The only shuffle in the list was Germany’s overtaking of the South Korea as the fourth largest online market.

While business-to-business (B2B) e-commerce continued to dominate, accounting for 88 per cent of all online sales, B2C was the segment that saw the most growth, increasing by 22 per cent to reach $3.9 tr in 2017. In the B2C realm, China increased its lead on the United States, while the United Kingdom held on to third place. UK consumers were still the most likely to shop on the Internet, with a whopping 82 per cent of people aged 15 and older making purchases online in 2017. Overall, however, China had the largest number of internet buyers at 440 mn.