March 7, 2021

Is the UK still number one for ecommerce?

Dr Peter Mowforth

While the UK may be good at inventing things, we’re often not very good when it comes to exploiting these inventions to create wealth, jobs and exports. Thankfully, the World Wide Web is a counterexample. Invented by Tim Berners-Lee in 1990, the technology has not only helped transform mass communication but has provided the framework for modern electronic trade through ecommerce. This has proved to be a resounding success for the UK:

2018 Statistics

Today, the UK dominates European online trade. Latest figures from the European Commission show that European online retail for 2017 is €534 billion at an average growth rate of 11%. Of that, the UK accounts for a whopping €178 billion – i.e. the UK is responsible for a third of all European retail internet trade with less than 9% of Europe’s population. Germany and France each have around €93 billion in retail ecommerce; i.e. the UK‘s B2C ecommerce market is around the same as France and Germany combined.As a result the global turnover for retail (B2C) ecommerce is  now estimated at $2.8 trillion US.The recently published Global Ecommerce Report published by the Ecommerce Foundation used a wide-ranging set of data and statistics to provide an update. They concluded that the UK has slipped from the first position in Global Ecommerce to third behind the United States and China which has now taken the top slot.I have tried to search out the most reputable statistics that predict the value of online retail ecommerce for 2018. Data sources include Statista, The US Government, the UK ONS, Boston Consulting Group and Forrester. Where different estimates are given, I have simply averaged between sources. The comparable figures for China, the US and UK are all converted to USD:

  • China B2C ecommerce turnover was estimated at $636 billion US dollars,
  • US B2C ecommerce turnover was estimated at $522 billion US dollars, and
  • UK B2C ecommerce turnover was estimated at $208 billion US dollars.

Factoring in population size

Using, current population sizes of the three countries are:

Scaling each of these relative to the size of the population gives:

  • China = 636/1416 = 449 USD per head of the population (Av.)
  • US = 522/327.5 = 1,594 USD per head of the population (Av.)
  • UK = 208/66.7 = 3,118 USD per head of the population (Av.)

The above graph shows two histograms. The one on the left is for ecommerce turnover per country. The graph on the right is online turnover scaled relative to the size of the population.These statistics only cover B2C ecommerce. For the UK, B2C + B2B ecommerce for 2016 was estimated at $659 Billion USD (£511 Billion).As is so often the case with statistics, how well the UK is doing depends on how you choose to define the variables and to calculate the statistics. The UK population is only 66.7/7659 = 0.87% of the global population. On that basis, we do seem to be doing remarkably well in what has fast become the most rapidly growing area of international trade.

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