Ecommerce growth has reached a whole new level in the past decade. Online businesses are worth trillions of dollars collectively, and many consumers partake in shopping on the web to buy goods and services at least occasionally. According to Statista, global retail ecommerce sales amounted to $5.2 trillion in 2021, with sales predicted to top $8 trillion by the year 2026.
Like with brick-and-mortar retailers, you can find both small boutiques and global brands offering their products online. Regardless if your country makes up the list of the top countries buying online, shopping on the internet is becoming increasingly popular around the world year after year.
Examining the biggest ecommerce sites can give some valuable insight into the state of the industry as a whole. It can also help to take a peek at ecommerce statistics and the history of ecommerce to see how much online shopping has changed and the growth it's seen in recent years.
For a bit of inspiration for your own ecommerce business, let’s take a look at some of the leading online retailers who enjoy a significant share of the total ecommerce market today!
Who are the biggest online retailers around the world?
Ready to learn more about some of the best-known players when it comes to web commerce? While some of these companies sell strictly on the internet, others have a share of their sales that occurs via physical commerce as well.
Amazon, the largest online retailer
Amazon is the highest-earning online retailer. Founded in 1994 by Jeff Bezos, this top company was originally intended to be an online bookstore. Although it was criticized by financial experts and analysts at first, Bezos quickly proved them wrong.
By December 1996, Amazon had 180,000 customer accounts. By October 1997, the site reached a million customer accounts.
In the years since, Amazon has become the widest-reaching ecommerce platform and one of the most popular names in ecommerce in the US and beyond. Virtually any item or product category imaginable is available for customers to shop for on its website. The retail company also offers a number of innovative services, such as grocery delivery and subscription-style purchases.
This website doesn’t just sell physical items, though. The Kindle e-reader with downloadable e-books was one of its first massive successes with customers. It now offers music, video streaming, and a wide variety of other services as well, all aiding in boosting the company’s total revenue.
Amazon even acquired the supermarket chain Whole Foods in 2017. In addition, Amazon has several online stores for different countries.
Free shipping was one of Amazon’s defining features that attracted so many shoppers and helped to boost the company’s sales. As online shopping became more and more convenient, customers were even willing to pay an annual fee for two-day shipping from Amazon.
Today, most online shoppers expect fast and free delivery from retailers, which likely is because Amazon has paved the way for this level of convenience.
Jingdong, a site that boasts a major online presence in China
Jingdong, also known as JD.com, isn’t as well known in the West. However, this website is one of the highest-grossing ecommerce businesses in the world because of its strong presence in China. It operates from Beijing and has more than 250 million users.
The site was established in 1998 and has rapidly expanded since. As technology has advanced over the years, JD.com has kept up with the times. It uses a sophisticated system of artificial intelligence, robots, drones, and other technology to deliver purchases as quickly as possible.
Like Amazon, JD.com offers an enormous range of products. It sells electronics, furniture, food, and many other items.
The store also has a partnership with Walmart that will likely increase their revenue in China. Most online retailers view Walmart as a major competitor, but JD.com has teamed up with the superstore to maximize its growth.
Apple, a winner in both physical and web sales
Although many shoppers don’t think of Apple as an ecommerce business, a large portion of their revenue comes from online purchases. Most of this global company’s online sales are from the United States, China, and Japan. In 2018, their sales amounted to around $26 billion, according to Forbes.
One reason why Apple achieves such high revenue is because of the value of each sale. While many of the items sold on Amazon and similar sites cost $20 or less, Apple’s products tend to be much more expensive. The business doesn’t have to sell nearly as many items to make a massive profit.
Apple is also partly responsible for the rapid rise in ecommerce shopping in general in recent years. People are almost always connected to the internet with their smartphones, which allows them to shop and browse online retail stores from anywhere.
Alibaba, an ecommerce giant despite increasing competition
Alibaba Group, founded by Jack Ma in 1999, is a Chinese multinational conglomerate specializing in ecommerce, retail, internet, and technology. Its flagship platform, Alibaba.com, initially started as a B2B marketplace connecting Chinese manufacturers with international buyers.
Over time, the company expanded its ventures to include consumer-focused platforms like Taobao (C2C marketplace), Tmall (B2C marketplace), and AliExpress (global retail platform).
Alibaba's success can be attributed to several factors. To start, the founder recognized the potential of the internet in transforming global trade. In addition, its diverse platforms cater to various segments of ecommerce, from wholesale and retail to international trade. Alibaba also leveraged innovative payment solutions like Alipay, simplifying transactions for users.
As noted by Statista, Alibaba held a whopping 24% of the market share for leading online retailers around the globe in 2021. While the company has started facing a growing amount of competition, both in China and abroad, it continues to remain a giant in the plethora of ecommerce companies in operation today.
Suning, one of the most popular online retailers in China
Suning is another online retailer that you may never have heard of, depending on where you're located. It’s one of the top ecommerce stores in the world, though.
Suning was founded in 1996 and conducts almost all of its business in China. In 2009, the company started to strengthen its online presence. Today, it’s one of China's most popular retail websites.
The brand continues to have a successful brick-and-mortar presence as well. This retail company has more than 1,500 storefronts supplying in-person commerce throughout China, and it has a small presence in Japan. Forbes reports that in 2018, this retailer’s net sales were $20 billion.
The company is one of the biggest retailers in China that isn’t owned by the government. Its website sells electronics, appliances, clothing, and many other products. In addition, it offers installation and repair services for electronics purchased on its website.
Walmart, an American retail behemoth
Walmart is the largest company in the world. The first Walmart store opened in 1962, and they were listed on the New York Stock Exchange 10 years later. By the 1980s, the retail company achieved $1 billion in annual sales and had hundreds of stores throughout the United States.
Walmart.com was founded in 2000. Although the company existed long before the internet, it took Walmart some time to catch up with its ecommerce competitors.
This is most likely because there are so many brick-and-mortar Walmart stores, especially in the United States. Most customers may prefer to take a short drive to a Walmart store to shop instead of waiting for products to be shipped to them.
Even so, Walmart.com’s net sales amounted to $16 billion in 2018, according to Forbes. It sells over a million products, and it offers in-store pickup for customers who want to receive their items right away.
Walmart has also ventured into other services, such as music downloading and online photo orders that can be picked up in person.
eBay, an ecommerce OG known for its bidding platform
Established in 1995 by Pierre Omidyar, eBay is a renowned multinational ecommerce corporation. It originated as an online marketplace allowing individuals to buy and sell goods in an auction-style format and has evolved to incorporate fixed-price listings, becoming a diverse platform offering new and used products across various categories.
With a global ecommerce market share of 2% as of 2021 (Statista), eBay's success is largely due to its user-friendly platform, which empowers both individuals and businesses to engage in online commerce. Its extensive reach, supported by localized versions for different countries, facilitates global trade. Furthermore, the feedback and rating system enhances trust between buyers and sellers.
In addition, eBay's Buy It Now option and the shift towards ecommerce in the digital age have contributed to its popularity with consumers. Its PayPal acquisition further streamlined transactions for shoppers around the world. Moreover, the platform's wide variety of products, collectibles, and unique goods draws in a broad customer base seeking both brand-new and vintage merchandise.
Rakuten, a booming Japanese online retail platform
Rakuten, founded by Hiroshi Mikitani in 1997 in Japan, is a prominent ecommerce and internet services company. Originally starting as an online marketplace, it has expanded into a diverse platform offering products, services, and digital content across various categories, including electronics, fashion, books, and more.
Rakuten's uniqueness lies in its loyalty program, known as the Rakuten Super Points, which incentivizes customers with rewards for their purchases. The company also has a vast ecosystem that includes financial services, telecommunications, and media.
Many attribute Rakuten's success as a top global online retailer to its customer-centric approach, innovative features like the loyalty program, and a marketplace that facilitates cross-border trade. In addition, its acquisitions, such as Ebates in the United States, have expanded its international presence.
Furthermore, its aim of providing a wide array of products and services, along with unique promotions, has helped establish it as a major player in the ecommerce industry.
Etsy, one of the best-known online marketplaces
Etsy, founded in 2005 by Rob Kalin, Chris Maguire, and Haim Schoppik, is a renowned online marketplace specializing in handmade, vintage, and unique goods. It started as a platform to connect crafters, artists, and artisans with buyers seeking one-of-a-kind items.
Etsy's focus on creativity, individuality, and a sense of community have helped it to become a household name in web commerce. It empowers small business owners and independent creators to showcase their products on a global stage, providing them with an accessible platform for selling and marketing their goods.
The platform's emphasis on supporting local and sustainable businesses aligns with modern consumer preferences. Etsy's user-friendly interface, personalized recommendations, and strong search algorithms further enhance customer experiences. What's more, its commitment to transparency and seller-buyer interaction builds trust, fostering a loyal customer base.
Etsy's blend of handcrafted items, vintage finds, and digital downloads has set it apart in the ecommerce landscape. Its niche focus on unique and personalized products, along with its role in promoting creativity and entrepreneurship, makes Etsy one of the top online retailers globally.
Wayfair, a major ecommerce player in the category of home goods
Wayfair, founded by Niraj Shah and Steve Conine in 2002, is a major online retailer specializing in home goods and furniture. It emerged as a disruptor in the industry by offering a vast selection of products and leveraging the drop-shipping model to minimize inventory costs. The retail site made a total of $12.2 billion in sales in 2022 (Business of Apps).
Wayfair is appreciated by consumers looking to buy things for the home is its user-friendly platform, extensive product variety, and competitive pricing. Its commitment to customer experience is reflected in features like 3D visualization tools and a seamless shopping process.
The company's rapid growth and expansion into various home-related categories have solidified its position as a leading global ecommerce player. Wayfair's acquisitions of complementary brands have further bolstered its reach and offerings.
Wayfair's emphasis on personalization, recommendations, and user-generated content has built a strong customer community. Its ability to provide an extensive range of products for diverse home styles and budgets, combined with its efficient delivery and customer service, has propelled Wayfair to become a top online organization in the home goods market.
IKEA, a popular choice for DIYers
Launched in 1943 by Ingvar Kamprad in Sweden, IKEA is one of the best-known furniture and home goods retailers across the globe. It revolutionized the industry by offering affordable, ready-to-assemble furniture and minimalist designs. IKEA's self-service model, flat-pack packaging, and showroom layouts set new standards in home furnishing retail.
In recent years, IKEA has embraced ecommerce to complement its physical stores. The company's website provides detailed product information, virtual planning tools, and convenient delivery options.
IKEA's success as a top online retailer stems from its strong brand identity, customer loyalty, and ability to adapt to changing consumer preferences. Its emphasis on affordable yet stylish solutions, sustainable practices, and seamless integration of online and offline experiences has earned it a prominent position in the global e-commerce landscape, catering to a wide range of home and lifestyle needs.
Where can you sell your own products for shoppers to purchase?
The percentage of retail sales occurring online will likely only increase in the future. Studying the top retailers can be a great way to learn what to do and what not to do for your own online store.
The businesses mentioned in this article have achieved incredible success in the ecommerce industry, and they’re part of the reason that online shopping is so popular today!
Their early start may be the most obvious reason for their success. Most of these retailers were established before the 2000s and created their online stores in the very early days of the internet.
Online businesses that launch today face much more competition. Newer retailers tend to do better when they focus specifically on a small niche rather than offering millions of products in dozens of categories.
If you want to run your own ecommerce website, don’t feel like you have to compete with brands like Amazon or Walmart. These retailers are the largest online stores in the world, but there are thousands of successful smaller and mid-sized businesses as well!
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