UNCTAD e-commerce estimates reveal implications of digital divide on developing and transition economies during COVID-19

According to the UN Conference on Trade and Development’s (UNCTAD) recent estimates, e-commerce sales amounted to USD$25.6 trillion globally in 2018, up 8% from 2017. Developing and transition economies accounted for about half of the top 20 economies by business-to-consumer (B2C) e-commerce sales. In relation to gross domestic product (GDP), B2C e-commerce in these economies was the largest in Hong Kong (China), China, and the United Kingdom, and smallest in India, Brazil, and Russia. Among the top 20 economies, in 2018, 87% of Internet users in the United Kingdom shopped online, compared with only 14% in Thailand and 11% in India. This reflects the limited capacity of developing countries in harnessing digital technologies to address the health and economic challenges of the COVID-19. This could be attributed to the limited Internet access in the developing countries; only half of the world’s 7.7 billion people are connected to the Internet and its benefits. ‘Still the number of online shoppers, while huge, is an indication of the scale of the digital divide and the future market potential of e-commerce, both of which need to be addressed,’ stressed UNCTAD Director of Technology and Logistics Shamika Sirimanne.