Switzerland, the Netherlands and Denmark are the most prepared countries in the world to engage customers in e-commerce, according to a new study by the UN’s trade and development body.
European countries dominate the top 10 places in the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development’s business-to-consumer (B2C) e-commerce index, which ranked 152 countries on how well they adopt online commerce.
The only non-European economies among the top 10 are Singapore (fourth) and Hong Kong (10th).
Unctad also said there is a need to address “wide gaps” between those with the strongest infrastructures and the weakest, "to spread the benefits of digital transformation to more people”.
“The e-commerce divide remains huge,” Shamika Sirimanne, Unctad’s director of technology and logistics, said.
“Even among G20 countries, the extent to which people shop online ranges from 3 per cent in India to 87 per cent in the UK,” she added.
Global B2C e-commerce was valued at $4.4 trillion in 2018, up 7 per cent from 2017, according to the council's estimates. The value of global B2B e-commerce in 2018 was $21tn, representing 83 per cent of all e-commerce transactions.
Unctad scored countries on factors such as access to secure internet, the reliability of postal services and infrastructure, and the share of a country's population that uses the internet and has accounts with financial institutions or providers of mobile money services.
More than 70 per cent of the adult population makes purchases online in Canada, the US and in 10 European nations. This proportion is below 10 per cent in most low- and lower-middle-income countries.
“The Covid-19 pandemic has made it more urgent to ensure the countries trailing behind are able to catch up and strengthen their e-trade readiness,” Ms Sirimanne said.
The index underscores the need for governments to do more to ensure people can avail e-commerce opportunities, she added.
“Otherwise, their businesses and people will miss out on the opportunities offered by the digital economy, and they will be less prepared to deal with various challenges.”
The four largest increases in index scores were recorded in developing countries – Algeria, Brazil, Ghana and Laos. Their scores surged by at least five points, largely due to improvements in postal reliability.
The 10 developing countries with the highest scores are all from Asia and classified as high-income or upper-middle-income economies.
Globally, Covid-19 has boosted online shopping, the UN body said. For example, 7.3 million Brazilians shopped online for the first time during the pandemic. In Argentina, the number of first-time online buyers during the pandemic was equivalent to 30 per cent of the 2019 online shopping base.
The coronavirus pandemic has accelerated the shift to a more digital world. Almost half of global consumers spending in online rather than physical stores.
Forty-nine per cent of consumers polled in an October study by Unctad now shop online more frequently, with consumers in emerging economies making the biggest shift to digital.