It sometimes feels like Amazon is taking over the world. They are, but they’re not the only ones trying. Breaking down the most visited online marketplaces by country sheds light on a global ecommerce power struggle. Worldwide online spending is expected to pass $4 trillion in 2020. That’s a lot of pie to slice up.
So who is winning this high-stakes battle for ecommerce world domination? We decided to find out, with some surprising results. Amazon is having a good old go at a global takeover, but they’re far from the only player in the game. Global online retail is taking shape as a world of private empires, and they’re running out of territory to expand into.
We used data from Alexa Internet to gather the top 50 most visited websites in 174 countries — 8700 urls — and categorized them into types. Search engines, portals, social media, and so on. Numbers on top search engines, or top sites globally, are nothing new, but we were interested in something else. We were interested in ecommerce.
By combing through the data, identifying the most visited online marketplace in each country, and working out who owned them, we were able to map the world’s current ecommerce empires.
|Ecommerce empire||Countries||Online population||Area (km²)|
|Ecommerce empire||Countries||Online population||Area (km²)|
The Sun Never Sets on the Amazon Empire
Amazon is comfortably the most far-reaching ecommerce platform on earth. Of the 174 countries included in the study, Amazon was the most visited online marketplace in 58 — almost exactly a third. The online population of Amazon’s empire is over 1.2 billion.
As expected, Amazon dominates North America and Europe, but its tendrils reach further than that. The acquisition of Souq in 2017 has made Amazon the dominant ecommerce force in the Middle East, while in India it’s managed to edge the competition, though the market remains heavily contested there. More on that later.
Between groceries, pharmaceuticals, Oscar bait, and ecommerce, Amazon has come a long way since its humble origins as an online bookstore in 1994. The combined land area of Amazon’s 58 countries is now 34,956,262 km², which puts it just behind the British Empire at its peak (35,500,000 km2 in 1920).
Money: Journey to the West
Amazon is not the uncontested champion of global ecommerce. There are several other big players, chief of which is Alibaba. Amazon (USA) and Alibaba (China) are by far and away the two largest ecommerce empires on the planet.
Amazon pops up in every continent, while Taobao and Lazada dominate East Asia, both of which are owned by Alibaba. Alibaba is also a leading investor in Tokopedia, Indonesia’s online marketplace of choice. The Alibaban online population is just over 1 billion and its combined area is 13,680,139 km², just less than the Qing dynasty in 1790.
Alibaba’s presence is less uniform than its western rival. Amazon is Amazon, but Alibaba takes many forms. Taobao represents for China, while Lazada, which Alibaba has invested billions in, is the dominant ecommerce platform in Southeast Asia, topping the rankings in Malaysia, Thailand, Vietnam, and the Philippines.
That’s not to say Alibaba is content with Asia. AliExpress, another ones of its subsidiaries, tops national ecommerce rankings as far west as Montenegro. Not to mention its own interest in neighbors India, which is shaping up to be one of the ecommerce battlegrounds in the coming years.
Amazon vs The Amazon
Ironically, one place Amazon isn’t doing so well is The Amazon. South America has its own ecommerce platform — MercadoLibre (literally “free market” in Spanish). MercadoLibre has a stranglehold on South America, topping the rankings in eight countries there, plus Mexico to the north. Its online population is 341,044,208, while its 17,516,992 km² area comfortably outstrips the Spanish Empire at its peak in 1810.
This seems to make for healthy reading, but it bears mentioning that MercadoLibre are by far the most self-contained, regional force in global ecommerce. With Amazon eying up the South American market, the question for MercadoLibre is not expansion, but resistance. At least one of the Amazons in South America has a chance of growing.
Other Major Players
Outside of the big three, there are some other pretenders to the crown. Some you might have heard of, others prefer a degree of separation from their brands.
South African media group Naspers has managed to wrangle itself most of the old Soviet Union. Avito is the online marketplace of choice for Russia, with OLX coming out on top in most of the other post-Soviet states. Its combined area of 17,516,992 km² is almost exactly the same of the Russian Empire, funnily enough. It was Naspers who sold Souq to Amazon.
Norwegian media group Schibsted is carving out a market for itself in Northeastern Europe, its subsidiaries topping the ecommerce rankings in Sweden, Norway, Finland, and Belarus, amongst others. Savvy purchases have allowed it to resist Amazon to the west and Naspers to the east.
Ebay is still going strong, would you believe. It’s not what it once was, but it remains the most visited online marketplace in eight countries, including Australia, and owns another five platforms topping their national market.
In six African countries the top online retail site was Be Forward — a Japanese used car dealership that offers international exports — suggesting the main use of ecommerce in those countries is buying cars.
National borders are much more fluid on the internet. Just because a platform is the most visited doesn’t mean it’s the only one that’s widely used. It does, however, point to regional preferences (and rivalries) when viewed from afar.
While most regions tend to lean towards one ecommerce platform, Africa is a patchwork. No one platform has a clear advantage. Jumia is the closest thing the continent has to its own Amazon, but even that is owned by German internet company Rocket Internet (for now). Ecommerce seems to be bringing with it a kind of ecolonization.
Our research sheds light on a number of online marketplaces that have been scooped up by larger companies, and not everyone is terribly pleased about the prospect of ecommerce empires. The announcement that Walmart will be buying Flipkart, one of India’s largest ecommerce platforms, has sparked mass protests by local traders afraid the deal signals “the end of competition.”
New World Pre-order
India and Africa look set to be the main battlegrounds of the coming years. Ecommerce in India is growing faster than in any other country, while Africa’s potential customer base of 1 billion shoppers has key players in the sector licking their lips.
Ecommerce exists independent of these empires of course — smaller scale projects powered by the likes of Shopify — but with there’s no getting around their dominance. As the corners of the map are filled in, there’s going to be some friction. Come what may, hopefully consumers will be the ones to benefit.