2020 saw major surge in e-business; to stay for years to come 

Despite All Restrictions, e-Commerce Increased

2020 will go into history not as the year of Covid 19 pandemic but also for many changes, especially the unforeseen growth in e- business.

Though Covid 19 pandemic hit the world economy badly, it led to a major surge in e-commerce and digital transformation, according to a new report, Covid-19 and E-Commerce; A global review by UNCTAD and eTrade.  The report notes that e-commerce’s share of global retail trade increased from 14 per cent in 2019 to about 17 per cent in 2020.

UN General Assembly President Volkan Bozkir said that the trend was likely to continue throughout the recovery from the pandemic. Meanwhile, UNCTAD Acting Secretary-General Isabelle Durant said that the digital transformation for businesses and consumers helped to mitigate the economic downturn caused by Covid 19 pandemic. On the other hand, she also pointed out that the digital transition is going to stay and will have lasting impacts on the societies and daily lives.  However, she said that the society was not yet prepared for this transformation.

Some benefit, others fall behind

The report notes that consumers in emerging economies made the greatest shift to online shopping. The UNDP report mentioned a few examples.  Mercado Libre, Latin America’s online marketplace, sold twice as many items per day in the second quarter of 2020 compared with the same period the previous year. African e-commerce platform Jumia reported 50 per cent jump during the first six months of 2020, the UNDP says.

Moreover, China’s online share of retail sales rose from 19.4 per cent to 24.6 per cent between August 2019 and August 2020. In Kazakhstan, the online share of retail sales increased from five per cent in 2019 to 9.4 per cent in 2020. In Thailand, downloads of shopping apps jumped to 60 per cent in just one week during March 2020.  However, developed countries did not show a surge.


The report also maintained that the pandemic mostly benefited the world’s leading digital platforms. However, the solutions used for e-commerce, teleworking and cloud computing are provided by a relatively small number of large companies. These companies are based mainly in China and the United States.

UNCTAD’s digital economy head Torbjörn Fredriksson pointed out that the digital divide that already existed between and within countries will only worsen in the wake of the pandemic.

Government responses

With economy plunged down in many countries, the report says that several of the governments took short-term and longer-term strategies for its recovery. Many governments in developing countries intervened to protect businesses and individual incomes.

Action points for inclusive e-commerce

The report charts out certain action plans to ensure more inclusive benefits from e-business. It says that the governments need to prioritize national digital readiness. This helps in more local businesses to become producers in the digital economy. Another thing is to bring changes in public policy and business practices to improve digital and trading infrastructure. It also helps in facilitating digital payments and establishing appropriate legal and regulatory frameworks for online transactions and security. The report also wants to capture value from digital trade and to make digital entrepreneurship the focus.

The countries should have better capabilities to capture and harness data for e-business. They need stronger regulatory frameworks for creating and capturing value in the digital economy.  The international community should also find new and smart ways to work with governments and the private sector to leverage these opportunities.


In an earlier survey, the UNCTAD had noted that there was a shift to online shopping at time of Corona pandemic.


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