This article originally appeared on Forbes.com.
The internet has been one of the most transformative innovations in the modern era, driving generational shifts in how consumers live, work, play and shop. To put these shifts into perspective, only 24% of the global population had access to the internet in 2009, according to Euromonitor International. Since then, the percentage of consumers with internet access has doubled, boosted in large part by mobile internet.
While computers first brought internet into the home, mobile connectivity ushered in borderless internet, giving consumers instant access to anything from anywhere. More importantly, though, it helped bring emerging market consumers online, giving way to a truly mass participation technology. Digital consumers now use a variety of devices and interfaces to connect to the internet and to interact with digital content, services and experiences in both developed and now emerging markets.
Below are five key Euromonitor International statistics that will define the evolving digital consumer in 2019.
50.8% - Percentage of global population online
For the first time in history, a majority of the global population will be connected in 2019. This equates to 4 billion internet users. The highest levels of connectivity are found in the developed world, including North America and Western Europe. While communication still dominates internet-driven activities, connected consumers globally are beginning to use these devices for more commerce-related activities, according to Euromonitor International’s annual consumer surveys. Digital connectivity, which serves as the backbone to so many of the recent advances in commerce, is expected to further influence the way consumers conduct commerce in the years ahead.
105 million – Number of combined internet users coming online in India and China
Of course, many of the consumers coming online for the first time are in emerging markets, a trend that has been driven over the last decade by cheap mobile handsets and more affordable mobile network infrastructure. Out of the top 10 markets expected to post the highest percentage growth in internet users in 2019, seven are in the last frontier of Africa. The billion-people markets of China and India are forecasted to add the highest number of internet users. More than 100 million will come online from those two countries in 2019. To put this expansion into perspective, China and India will add more internet users over the next three years than what exists in the US today – the third-largest internet base.
US$321.8 billion – Size of the apparel and footwear online channel
A decade ago, there was skepticism at the idea of selling clothes online. However, apparel is now one of the biggest growth stories on the product side of digital commerce. Of all product-based categories purchased in the digital channel, apparel and footwear is the largest at US$321.8 billion spent globally online. It will also contribute the most sales with an estimated US$37.8 billion added in 2019. The rise of the connected population, combined with greater availability of products online, has propelled the shift toward fashionistas shopping in the digital channel. The US and China will together contribute about two-thirds of this expansion in 2019. Consumers in developed markets like the US are more comfortable with the multi-channel strategy offered by key players and the continual integration of physical and digital channels. In China, on the other hand, the rise of the middle class and the mobile-first mindset is driving this growth.
66% - Professionals who view improving customer journey as top priority
New technologies are creating massive upheavals in customer expectations. Every company now finds itself needing to embark on a digital transformation to maintain relevance. In order to better understand how companies are responding to this epochal shift, Euromonitor International conducted a survey of 602 professionals globally in September 2018 to gain their perspective on their own digital transformation. In terms of the most important commerce-specific development coming in the next 12 months, about two-thirds of respondents viewed improving the customer journey and user experience as the most important initiative in 2019. Technology plays an important role for companies and brands wishing to provide a memorable customer experience, as it often enriches the interaction the consumer has across the purchasing journey. Brands can make use of technology to deliver a truly curated experience, catering to individual preferences, beliefs and lifestyles for absolute consumer centricity.
59% - Professionals expect artificial intelligence will improve consumer engagements
Artificial intelligence is expected to be the most impactful technological advancement for businesses in the coming five years. Almost 60% of the 602 industry professionals Euromonitor International surveyed in September ranked the impact of artificial intelligence ahead of other technologies like the Internet of Things, robots/automation and the cloud. In the next 12 months, respondents expect artificial intelligence to lead to more improved customer engagement, such as tailored marketing and personalized recommendations, as well as enhanced website search. Fast forward five years and respondents see artificial intelligence most impacting how businesses handle customer service requests.