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Retail in Transition: Future E-commerce Opportunities in North America

July 2021

The digital revolution has been rewiring retail for years. The COVID-19 pandemic accelerated this transition as e-commerce became the default setting for many homebound consumers. The crisis-inspired surge in e-commerce is leading to a permanent shift in retail, creating new challenges as well as new opportunities for retailers and consumer brands alike. This report explores those opportunities and challenges in North America.

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Key findings

North America leads all global regions in e-commerce penetration

After briefly ceding the crown to the Asia Pacific region, a pandemic-driven surge in digital sales has once again made North America the global leader – across all regions – in terms of the percentage of goods bought online across the total retail sector.

Huge increase in food and drink e-commerce sales powers 2020 gains

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, North America witnessed a massive increase in e-commerce spending in 2020, much of which was driven by consumers shifting a portion of their grocery spending from store-based to digital channels.

Younger consumers led the charge, but all age groups shifted spending online in 2020

Across North America, consumers across all age groups reported making more purchases online in 2020 than they had in the previous year, including consumers aged 60+. Those in the 30-44 age group reported the highest rate of digital purchases, with those in the 15-29 age group reporting the highest rate of mobile purchases.

Expansion of kerbside pick-up service has brought e-commerce to new customers

In North America, the adoption and expansion of kerbside pick-up service by omnichannel retailers was one of the principal sources of e-commerce sales growth in 2020. Kerbside pick-up looks set to continue to boost digital sales going forward, as consumers appreciate the convenience and time-savings the service model provides.

Consumer electronics has massive unrealised online sales potential

According to Euromonitor International’s E-commerce Readiness Model, the consumer electronics industry in North America stands out for its untapped potential for digital sales gains that would not require any infrastructure expansion based on market dynamics entering the pandemic.

Apparel to contribute the largest share of digital sales growth between 2020 and 2025

Looking to the forecast period, Euromonitor International expects that sales of apparel and footwear products will account for a greater share of e-commerce absolute value sales growth in North America between 2020 and 2025 than any other product category.

Introduction

About the report
Key findings

E-commerce Emerges As the Default Setting

In 2020, North America passes Asia Pacific in share of goods bought online
Growth in North America driven by pandemic-induced shifts in behaviour
Case study: Amazon cements its status as the “everything store”
Category spotlight: Food and drink e-commerce comes into its own
Case study: Instacart emerges as an indispensable service provider

How Shopping Behaviours Continue to Evolve

E-commerce gains ground across every product category in 2020
Gains in m-commerce users more subdued than e-commerce as a whole
Consumer spotlight: Younger consumers are leading the digital shift
Shopping behaviours also evolve in other ways as a result of the crisis
Trend: Ubiquitous kerbside pick-up will be a legacy of the pandemic
Case study: Loblaw profits by expanding kerbside pick-up service

Identifying E-Commerce Growth Opportunities

Identifying the markets most primed for sustained e-commerce growth
E-commerce growth possible through optimisation rather than expansion
Consumer electronics appears ripe for e-commerce sales growth
Mobile phones category accounts for a third of unmet potential in the US
Case study: Best Buy makes decisive pivots to capture more online spend
North American e-commerce sales set to grow by USD566 million by 2025
Apparel and fashion to drive projected e-commerce sales growth
Case study: Nordstrom makes digital strides but faces an uncertain future

How to Win in North America

Key opportunities
Key challenges still to overcome
Key takeaways about e-commerce in North America
Recommendations for how to win in retail’s digital-first era
What to consider when evaluating your e-commerce strategy
Learn more about how to win in the digital-first era

Appendix

About the survey methodologies
About the E-Commerce Readiness Model
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