Morgan Stanley
  • Thoughts on the Market Podcast
  • May 12, 2022

Can eCommerce Sustain its Uptrend?


Welcome to Thoughts on the Market. I'm Andrew Ruben, Morgan Stanley's Latin America Retail and eCommerce Analyst. Along with my colleagues bringing you a variety of perspectives, I'll be talking about the outlook for global e-commerce in the years ahead. It's Thursday, May 12th, at 2 p.m. in New York.

Amid rising interest rates and persistent inflation, we've seen quite a lot of debate about the health of the consumer and the effect on eCommerce. If you couple those factors with consumers' desire to return to in-person experiences as COVID recedes, you can see why we've fielded a lot of questions about what this all means for eCommerce growth.

To answer this question, Morgan Stanley's Internet, eCommerce and Retail teams around the world drew on both regional and company level data to fashion what we call, the Morgan Stanley Global eCommerce Model. And what we found was that the forward looking picture may be more robust than some might think.

 While stay at home trends from COVID certainly drove outsized eCommerce growth from 2019 to 2021, we found the trend should stay stronger for longer, with eCommerce set to grow from $3.3 trillion currently to $5.4 trillion in 2026, a compound annual growth rate of 10%.

And there are a few reasons for that. First, the shift toward online retail had already been in place well before the COVID acceleration. To put some numbers behind that, eCommerce volumes represented 21% of overall retail sales globally in 2021. That's excluding autos, restaurants and services. So, while the rise of eCommerce during the first year of COVID in 2020 is easily explained, the fact that growth persisted in 2021, even on a historically difficult comparison, is evidence in our view, of real behavioral shift to shopping online.

Another factor that supports our multi year growth thesis is a trend of broad based eCommerce gains, even for the highest penetration countries and categories. As you might expect, China and the U.S. represent a sizable 64% of global eCommerce volumes, and these countries are the top drivers of our consolidated market estimates.

But we see higher growth rates for lower penetrated regions, such as Latin America, Southeast Asia and Africa, as well as categories like grocery and personal care. Interestingly, however, in our findings, no country or vertical represented a single outsized growth driver. Looking at South Korea, which is the global leader in e-commerce, we expect an increase from 37% of retail sales in 2021 to 45% in 2026. For the electronics category worldwide, which leads all other major categories with 38% penetration, we forecast penetration reaching 43% in 2026. And while there are some headwinds due to logistics in certain countries and verticals, we believe these barriers will continue to come down.

Another encouraging sign is that globally, we have yet to see a ceiling for eCommerce penetration. We identify three fundamental factors that underpin our growth forecasts and combine for what we see as a powerful set of multi-year secular drivers. First, logistics. We see a big push towards shorter delivery times and lower cost or free delivery. The convenience of delivery to the door is a top differentiating factor of eCommerce versus in-store shopping. And faster speeds can unlock new eCommerce categories and purchase occasions. Second, connectivity. Internet usage is shifting to mobile, and smartphones and apps are increasingly the gateway to consumers, particularly in emerging markets. And these consumers, on average, skew younger and over-index for time spent on the mobile internet. And third is Marketplace. We see a continued shift from first party owned inventory to third party marketplace platforms, connecting buyers and sellers.

For investors, it's important to note that global eCommerce does not appear to be a winner-take-all market. And this im plies opportunity for multiple company level beneficiaries. In particular, investors should look at companies with forecast share gains, exposure to higher growth categories, and discounted trading multiples versus history.

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As consumers deal with rising interest rates, persistent inflation, and a desire to get outside in the ever changing COVID environment, the question is, what does this all mean for the future of eCommerce growth?

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