The U.S. is the world’s largest economy and the world’s second largest e-commerce market (after China). Annual e-commerce sales is US$587 billion. Online sales accounts for 11.3% of retail sales.
Two e-commerce giants, Amazon and eBay, are headquartered in the United States. They are far ahead of other players in the world not only by scale but also by technology. The United States has a population of 328 million. E-commerce penetration rate is less than 12%, only half comparing to UK and China. The good news is that the US e-commerce market is far from being saturated. As the logistics infrastructure improves its efficiency and more brands goes online, the penetration will continue to go up.
But doing U.S. e-commerce business is not without challenges.
The low population density means higher logistics costs than other developed countries. The average delivery time will also be longer between big cities. In addition, the laws and regulations for e-commerce between States are quite different. All these factors slows down the development of online shopping in the U.S.
However, the U.S. e-commerce and online markets still have a lot of room for growth. Aside from the well-known “giant players”, there is also fierce competition within established retailers and niche markets. They not only have loyal customers, but also cater to a specific market. Flexibility and innovation are the major characteristics and advantages.
Overall E-commerce Marketplaces in the U.S.
With a monthly U.S. visits of over 2 billion, Amazon’s dominance in the U.S. e-commerce market is unquestionable. The monthly visit of eBay has shrunk seriously, to about 640 million. Over all, Amazon still accounts for more than half of the overall market size.
Wal-Mart and Target are close behind eBay. The strategies of the two companies are very different. Walmart started to have big bold bet on e-commerce a few years ago. After the acquisition of Jet.com, Wal-Mart’s e-commerce department was finally able to thrive. Wal-Mart recently partnered with Chines E-commerce giant JD.com. It has taken big steps carve up the market share. Target Plus is a fledgling new player. It will take time to become a real player.
The depth of the American market is very unique comparing with other markets. Many successful online platforms have opened up their popularity with unexpected niche products, such as Etsy‘s handicrafts, Wayfair‘s furniture and household goods, Newegg‘s video games and Poshmark‘s fashion products. There are also players like GunBroker, Reverb, TheRealReal. In other countries or regions, small niche markets are often difficult to gain traction. However, in the United States, focusing on niche markets seems to help build a loyal customer base.
Amazon’s US site has 2.3 billion monthly active visits. It is Amazon’s largest traffic source. According to Amazon’s 2019 annual report, Amazon’s global GMV is valued at US$335 billion, of which 70% comes from North America. The US GMV is roughly US$235 billion. More interestingly, the US site accounts for 39% of Amazon’s global traffic but accounts for 70% of the GMV. This shows that the unit price of the products on US website is much higher than other Amazon sites.
Amazon does not have a global account system. So existing sellers outside of North America need to register a new account to start business in the United States. However, Amazon does have a unified North American account system. Sellers in Canada and Mexico can use the same account as the United States.
In the United States, most people believe that Amazon is the only e-commerce platform worthy of attention. It is completely wrong. It is true that Amazon’s online sales account for 39% of the market, which is far ahead of other retailers and is still growing. However, some other platforms specialize in niche market products, such as handicrafts and fashion items. There is huge room for exponential growth still.
As the headquarters of Amazon, the United States is usually the first country where new projects are piloted. FBA, Launchpad and new advertising channels are all released in the United States before being promoted to other Amazon sites.
In the United States, 51% of households subscribe to Prime membership service. Prime members spend an average of US$1,400 on Amazon each year, while non-Prime members are US$600. It is logical that the retail sales of Amazon’s US site are higher than other international sites. Prime members can enjoy multiple services including guaranteed two-day delivery. Amazon is making great efforts to improve its logistics network, paving the way for one-day and same-day delivery services to be launched successively.
eBay ranks second in the United States, with a monthly activity of 640 million. eBay America accounted for 39% of eBay’s global traffic. According to statistics, eBay’s global GMV is US$90 billion. Assuming that GMV is proportional to site traffic, the US GMV is approximately US$35 billion.
eBay started in 1995, riding on the boom in the initial development of the Internet, its business has grown rapidly. Its pure technology-led business model eliminates the need to manage inventory. This model makes eBay favored by the financial market.
eBay has quickly become a well-known online shopping platform. Anyone can start an auction or sell any product online. At that time, major platforms were convinced that auctions would become the future trend of online shopping, including Yahoo and Amazon, successively launching auction functions.
The first decade of the 21st century is a period of great changes in the e-commerce market. However, eBay is still complacent. Its auction format and the positioning of its own flea market was not changed for the longest time. As of today, most of the products currently sold on eBay are for companies rather than individuals. And most of the products are sold at a fixed price. However the impression of auctions still exists to this day.
It is estimated that eBay only accounts for 4.7% of U.S. online sales, far behind its old rival Amazon’s 39%. All the early advantages of eBay now seem to have become weaknesses. As a pioneer in the e-commerce industry, eBay has been constrained by outdated concepts and chaotic markets as well as its undecided attitude towards providing standardized product information and logistics services. Amazon has taken the market leadership position steadily and surely.
eBay uses a global account system. It means that in each country or region eBay’s model and policies are the same. The seller information will be fed back to the system in a centralized manner. But this does not mean that eBay will automatically display search results worldwide.
Founded in 1962, Wal-Mart is a multinational retail company. From the perspective of annual operating income, Wal-Mart is a well-deserved leader. It is also one of the largest private companies in the world. Although Wal-Mart sits on thousands of physical stores, well-know brandname and almost unlimited resources, it only began to make a big splash in the e-commerce. The acquisition of Jet.com in 2016 and the integration of its team into Wal-Mart’s subordinates is not to contribute to Jet.com’s success, but to empower Wal-Mart.
Wal-Mart’s online shopping platform finally reborn in a brand new posture. Nearly 50,000 sellers have signed up. Wal-Mart currently does not disclose data on the percentage of 3rd party sellers’ GMV in total GMV. But it clearly stated that online platform is an important part of Wal-Mart’s overall strategy.
The monthly active visits of Wal-Mart’s online platform is 446 million. It accounts for 95% of Wal-Mart’s global traffic and 5.3% of the US e-commerce GMV second only to Amazon’s 39%. Wal-Mart’s online sales are estimated at US$50 billion.
The current requirements for the entry of Wal-Mart’s online platform include a US registered business and a warehouse in the States. It is undoubtedly more beneficial to local US sellers. The new account review period for new sellers may be as long as three weeks. Wal-Mart requires sellers to upload at least 10% of their products before they are allowed to be listed. Although Wal-Mart’s entry conditions are relatively strict, they have relatively poor customer service after entering the market.
Wish was founded in 2010. It adopted mobile first strategy from day one. In addition, most of the products are shipped directly from China. Product price point is very low. There are clothes $5 and smart watches for $10. The long delivery cycle and worrying product quality are its two major weaknesses. However it successfully captured a big low-end market.
Wish is the most downloaded shopping app in the world, with a global GMV of up to 10 billion U.S. dollars and a monthly active visits of 112 million. It ranks 21st e-commerce platform in the world. Wish has a diverse international audience, but the United States is the largest traffic source, accounting for 22%.
After the advent of Wish, it quickly divided the low- and middle-level consumer market. The establishment of the Wish logistics network (Fulfillment by Wish, FBW), the promotion of merchant performance evaluation standards, and the promotion of product certification systems are all paving the way for the improvement of the product quality control system and the completion of the platform transformation. The commission drawn by the Wish platform is 15% of the order transaction amount.
Sears is well known brand in the United States. It was established in 1893 and developed into the largest retailer in the United States in the 1980s, with more than 3,500 physical stores. However, Sears has been going downhill since then, with more and more stores closed, and it is on the verge of bankruptcy in 2018.
Sears’ online retail platform has always performed well, with a monthly activity of 19 million, of which 93% are from the United States. Sears launched an online shopping platform in 2009, and launched Sears logistics services (Fulfilled by Sears) in 2013.
In 2018, Sears reached an agreement with thousands of eBay sellers to integrate products into the Sears online shopping platform to make up for the weakness of product shortages.
Sears’ commission rates range from 8% to 20%, and sellers also pay a monthly rental fee of $39.99. Sears has more than 20 product catalogs. Its jewelry category is the trump card among them. This is related to the predecessor of its department store. Sears is no longer the department store leader, but fortunately, the trust rooted in consumers’ hearts has not faded.
Other e-commerce platforms
Target is operating in the form of online and offline dual channels, with annual revenue of up to 75 billion US dollars. The monthly activity of Target US station is as high as 250 million. Target has both self-operated products and a third-party platform—Target Plus. Target Plus has a special qualification for sellers, which is an invitation system, which slows down the growth of the platform. In more than a year since it went online in February 2019, the number of sellers exceeded 100, with more than 165,000 products on the shelves.
Etsy only works as a third-party platform, with a monthly activity of 170 million U.S. visits and a global GMV of up to 5 billion U.S. dollars. Etsy specializes in handicrafts and provides a platform for sellers to show themselves.
Wayfair specializes in household products and home furnishings, with its own private labeled products and third-party products. The annual GMV is 8 billion U.S. dollars, and 87 million monthly visits from the United States. Wayfair does not charge commissions, but sets prices for products in accordance with the dropshipping model and pays suppliers for product wholesale price.
Overstock’s monthly visit of 26 million comes from the United States, accounting for 94% of its global monthly activity, and its annual GMV is as high as US$1.5 billion. Overstock is mainly known for furniture and household goods, but also sells jewelry, clothing and other products. Overstock abolished the original auction function in 2011, but there are still some third-party sellers on the platform, but the activity is very low, and many products are sold out.
Newegg and Wayfair have a similar operating model, selling both private label products and 3rd party products. Newegg mainly sell electronic products and video games. The annual GMV is US$2.25 billion, and 23 million monthly visits come from the United States. Newegg launches logistics service—Shipped by Newegg. Sellers are divided into 3 levels. Entry-level sellers do not need to pay monthly fees, and the commission rate ranges from 8% to 15%.