Digital 2021 Report Shines Light on a Fascinating Year Online – Part 2: E-Commerce

This is Part 2 in our series of blogs on the Digital 2021 Report from We Are Social and Hootsuite. Read Part 1 here.

All around the world, economic graphs from 2020 follow a common pattern: A gentle but steady rise, followed by a moment of turbulence, and then a not-so-gentle fall off a cliff.

But there is an exception to this rule, and it is an important one. While the rest of the business world was on life-support, e-commerce was having its best year ever. Some businesses in this category suffered greatly, to be sure – travel and accommodation providers foremost among them – but in general, companies that sold their products and services digitally performed very well indeed.

Our experience as a web agency in Bangkok tells us that the end of the pandemic is unlikely to reverse this trend. Digital sales had been rising each year even before COVID-19, and now far more people are in the habit of doing their shopping with just a few clicks. Rather than forcing consumers into uncomfortable roles, the pandemic has for the most part simply accelerated a transition to e-commerce that was already well underway.

As malls struggle, shopping continues to soar

Retail isn’t dying; it’s changing. The statistics below show the nature of this change, and are all the more impressive when one realizes that they are a global snapshot of internet users who have engaged in these behaviors during the previous month alone:

Moreover, as with most digital statistics, Thailand’s internet users are well above average on these metrics. Thailand ranks third in the world, behind Indonesia and the UK, on the percentage of internet users who have made an online purchase in the past 30 days (see below, left side) – and second in the world when the data is restricted to mobile purchases alone.

Interestingly, Thailand ranks near the bottom of the list when measuring online purchases made by laptop or desktop computer – signaling that mobile optimization is by far the better recipe for success.

Of course, the size of the global e-commerce market is what makes such efforts worthwhile. Some of the global sales figures below are larger than Thailand’s entire annual GDP:

The trend lines on these numbers are equally impressive. Though the travel, mobility, and accommodation sector is struggling mightily today, its post-pandemic size may very well return to previous levels. All other categories are experiencing double-digit gains – and with each passing month, users become increasingly habituated to the convenience of online purchases in these areas.

Nor are these successes merely the result of companies following the digital trend. As we see below, the rates of conversion are also up 50% from a year ago:

Lifestyle shifts are also evident in the data, as we see with the skyrocketing rise in grocery purchases online:

Other sales categories have seen similar jumps over the past year – with the notable exception of tourism-related purchases.

A step forward for business

Beyond the rise in sales numbers, e-commerce brings other distinct advantages for business. Websites are cheaper to build than physical stores, and it is far easier to control the customer experience online than in real life. Companies in Thailand would be wise to invest now in the e-commerce strategy, using a web agency in Bangkok that can put a particular emphasis on mobile optimization.

Although the eventual end of the pandemic will lead to a correction in some areas – travel and accommodation will see sales rise rapidly, while other sectors will settle into more modest and sustainable growth patterns – the path forward is clear. With the rest of the economy now starting to climb the other side of the valley, it will find that the digital trail provides a much easier and quicker ascent.


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