Pandemic resulted in additional $900 billion global online spend in 2020

Marianne Wilson
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E-commerce provided a lifeline for retailers during the COVID-19 pandemic as consumers shopped online for nearly everything, from groceries to gardening supplies. 

According to Mastercard’s Recovery Insights: Commerce E-volution, online pandemic spending amounted to an additional $900 billion being spent in retail online around the world in 2020. Put another way: In 2020, e-commerce made up roughly $1 out of every $5 spent on retail, up from about $1 out of every $7 spent in 2019.

Approximately 20% to 30% of the COVID-related shift to digital globally is expected to be permanent, according to the Mastercard study.  And the shift is expected to be even higher for essential retailers.

Essential retail sectors, which had the smallest digital share before the crisis, saw some of the biggest gains as consumers adapted,” stated the report. “With new consumer habits forming and given the low pre-Covid user base, we anticipate 70-80% of the grocery e-commerce surge to stick around for good.”

In the United States, the pandemic accelerated the shift to electronic payments — even in stores. According to Mastercard’s analysis, non-cash payments at stores and restaurants jumped by an additional 2.5 percentage points beyond the ongoing trend,  accelerating the shift from cash to electronic payments by a full year.

Other trends from the Mastercard study are below.

  • Early digital adopters go into overdrive: Economies that were more digital before the crisis— such as the U.K. and U.S. —saw larger gains in the domestic shift to digital that look more permanent than the countries that had a smaller share of e-commerce before the crisis, such as Argentina and Mexico. Asia Pacific, North America, and Europe were the strongest regions in driving e-commerce adoption.
  • International e-commerce rose 25-30% during the pandemic: International e-commerce got a boost both in sales volume and the number of different countries where shoppers placed orders. With infinitely more choices at their fingertips, consumer spending on international e-commerce grew around 25-30% year over year from March 2020 through February 2021.
  • Consumers increase their e-commerce footprints, buying from up to 30% more online retailers: Reflecting expanded consumer choice, our analysis shows that consumers worldwide are making purchases at a greater number of websites and online marketplaces than before. Residents in countries like Italy and Saudi Arabia are buying from 33% more online stores, on average, followed closely by Russia and the U.K.




“While consumers were stuck at home, their dollars traveled far and wide thanks to e-commerce,” says Bricklin Dwyer, Mastercard chief economist and head of the Mastercard Economics Institute. “This has significant implications, with the countries and companies that have prioritized digital continuing to reap the benefits. Our analysis shows that even the smallest businesses see gains when they shift to digital.”