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Key eCommerce Trends in USA and What They Mean for Southeast Asia

Benedict Leong

Statue of Liberty with a plane in the background

With the world’s largest GDP in 2019 at USD 19.4 trillion and the world’s second-largest eCommerce market, the United States of America can quickly become one of your biggest lanes when it comes to cross-border eCommerce.1


Quick Statistics on USA’s eCommerce Market:

USA eCommerce market statistics at a glance, USA's de minimis rate, key eCommerce trends - driven by good prices and products variety, COVID-19 driven online shopping growth and mobile commerce is big

  • Population – 325.7 million people
  • Total Consumer spending
    • USD 13 trillion
  • Online shopping’s share of consumer spending 2019 – 8.9%
  • B2C eCommerce Sales Total Revenue
    • USD 744.1 billion
  • Mobile Commerce Market Size
    • USD 282.8 billion
  • Internet Usage Statistics (as % of USA population)
    • Internet Penetration – 89%
    • eCommerce Penetration – 78%
    • Smartphone Penetration – 85%
    • Bank Account Penetration – 93%
  • De Minimis Rate – USD 800

Source: JP Morgan 20191 Figures from 31st March 2019

We Are Social and Hootsuite’s Digital 2020 USA report2 shows us which categories Americans are spending the most on:

We Are Social and Hootsuite's Digital 2020 - eCommerce spend by category

Online shoppers in America spend the most on fashion, followed by electronics and physical media and toys, DIY and hobby items. Furniture and appliances and food and personal care are 4th and 5th respectively but have seen the most growth following the lockdowns that began in late Q1 2020.

The USA’s eCommerce market is second behind that of China’s, but this actually means it has great growth potential. As opposed to China’s fairly high eCommerce usage at 23.1 per cent of all retail sales, JP Morgan reports that eCommerce in 2019 made up just 8.9 per cent of all sales in the USA.

With a greater need for social distancing this 2020, we are currently seeing record sales growths for eCommerce in America. DigitalCommerce3603 reports that ‘More than $1 in every $5 was spent online in Q2 2020 – the highest eCommerce penetration of any quarter or year on record.

Apart from this market’s growth potential, it also has a generous de minimis rate of USD 800, which is good news for merchants in Southeast Asia looking to sell cross-border into the USA. The de minimis rate means that items with a customs valuation below it will not be charged additional import taxes and customs duties. That potentially means larger duty-free orders from a single transaction from your store.


Janio Asia has customs clearance expertise for shipments into and throughout Southeast Asia – Looking to minimise customs-related headaches for shipments into countries like Indonesia? Talk to us below to find out more!

Need to Ship to Southeast Asia via Sea, Air or Cross border Trucking? Get a quote here!

But what are some of the key trends that eCommerce merchants, particularly those in Southeast Asia, need to be aware of when trying to break into America’s massive eCommerce opportunity?

COVID-19 accelerates eCommerce Adoption

eMarketer Retail eCommerce Sales in the US 2018 - 2022

The greater need for safe distancing, and in some cases the only way to purchase items when brick-and-mortar stores are forced to close helped to drive eCommerce’s growth this year.

Apart from DigitalCommerce360, eMarketer’s data4 also shows the largest spike in online percentage share of total retail sales in 2020 – growing from 11.0 per cent in 2019 to 14.5 per cent in 2020. US consumers are estimated to spend USD 709.78 billion online in 2020 – growing by 18 per cent from last year. Brick and mortar retail spending is expected to decrease by 14.0 per cent to USD 4.084 trillion.

These increases were also partly driven by first-time shoppers buying online this year. ClearSale,5 an eCommerce fraud protection company, reported that across the US, Canada, Australia, Mexico and Argentina – countries that all had some form of lockdown – that the average number of brand-new online shoppers rose by 12 per cent between March and April.

eMarketer also reports that personal care and beauty products, just after food and beverages, are estimated to grow sharply this year. eMarketer raised its forecasted growth from 16.6 per cent from last year to 32.4 per cent for health and beauty products bought online in America in 2020.4 Trending health and beauty products6 range from mask and mask accessories, to vitamins and dietary supplements and also skincare products like acne creams.

To keep an eye out for trending products on marketplaces like Amazon, you can use Google Trends or more specific search engines like Jungle Scout, Sonar or Ahrefs which have the capability to discover search trends on sites like Amazon or eBay.

One-Third of US Shoppers Purchase Cross-border and Many US Shoppers Trust Global or Local Brands

Cross-border shoppers in America may be in the minority, but they are still a sizeable crowd making up 31 per cent of all American online shoppers in 2019, according to JP Morgan. The three most popular markets they purchase overseas from is China, Canada and the UK. Most shoppers in America are loyal to more global or local brands such as Amazon, eBay and the like, but those who look beyond America’s borders are driven by different concerns.

Based on Ipsos and Paypal’s Cross-Border Consumer Research 2018,7 the main drivers of shopping cross-border are better prices, access to items not available in their country, and discovering newer and more interesting products. However, it should be noted that these figures are from a global survey.

Fortunately, research on US Cross-border eCommerce by Beroe in 20188 helps add a US perspective Ipsos and Paypal’s findings. They credit cheaper prices and greater product choice as key drivers for Americans to shop overseas. These cheaper prices are also aided by USA’s fairly high de minimis rate (USD 800) too. Both Beroe and Paypal’s research show that clothing and apparel is the most popular item being bought cross-border.

Paypal’s research showed that North Americans (includes Canada) primarily purchase via desktops laptops or notebooks (64 per cent). Smartphones made up 21 per cent and tablets made up 12 per cent.

When it comes to prices, Beroe looks at the price level index, the price level of a country relative to another. What this means is that for a country with strong spending power, products overseas could appear cheaper after factoring in things like currency conversion – which helps explain why China is one of the more popular cross-border eCommerce markets for Americans.

What this means for Southeast Asian eCommerce merchants is that you’ll need to balance providing your USA shoppers with an experience they know they can trust while providing them with competitively priced products they can’t find locally – such as clothing and apparel manufactured in Indonesia, one of the world’s leading clothing manufacturers.

Mobile Commerce is Big During Key Shopping Events But Americans are Wary of Fraud

Mobile commerce is still growing in the USA, with transactions via mobile apps being slightly higher than transactions via mobile internet browser. JP Morgan reported that out of USD 282.8 billion of transactions done on a mobile device, USD 156.3 billion (55 per cent) was done via apps, with USD126.5 billion done via mobile browser.

JP Morgan reports that the top apps for these are Amazon, Poshmark and sales platform Letgo. Popular mobile eCommerce activities include coupons and online review capabilities. During Q4 2018 in America, mobile eCommerce purchases grew by 56 per cent year on year compared to 2017, compared to just 5 per cent for desktop.

On the other hand, American shoppers are also wary of fraud. A March 2020 survey by ClearSale,9 just before business closures swept the USA, found that 56% of Americans surveyed viewed fraud protection as more important privacy, but were not willing to sacrifice an easy and quick shopping experience. ClearSale’s key takeaways from that research include:

  • 92% said security is important for online shopping
  • 81% suspect online fraud is common
  • 83% said they would be more likely to shop on sites that discussed their fraud-prevention efforts
  • 58% didn’t think retailers were overly cautious about online fraud.

For merchants based in Southeast Asia, listing on trusted marketplaces like Amazon could help. However, to further gain trust you’ll also need a branded website of your own that discusses fraud prevention methods while also gaining positive reviews from other US buyers on these platforms. This branded website can be built using popular shop builders like Shopify, who has an extensive presence in the North American market.

Putting it All Together:

The USA’s eCommerce market is second in the world and recent events have accelerated Americans’ adoption of eCommerce, especially among many first time buyers. Americans tend to prefer local or global brands and want reassurance that they are getting a great eCommerce experience: good prices, a quick and convenient shopping experience while knowing that the transaction won’t be fraudulent.

Good prices can be helped by America’s strong purchasing power and high de minimis rate. After currency conversion, Americans could have a sizeable basket of goods from your store and still not incur additional customs duties and taxes. You can also find out upcoming trends on popular sites like Amazon using site search engines like the ones listed above.

Trust is a big factor when winning over American shoppers. Most cross-border purchases happen on desktop, so having a branded store built on popular eCommerce platforms like Shopify is important. Equally important is highlighting the steps you’re taking to combat fraud to help win them over.

American shoppers’ trust for global or local brands also points towards having a presence on major marketplaces like Amazon – which account for almost half of all eCommerce transactions in the USA. Growing your collection of 5-star reviews will go a long way in gaining their trust – and this can only be done by making sure the products you sell them reach their doorsteps safe and sound.

Apart from ensuring sufficient stock and sales deals during Black Friday and Cyber Monday, you’ll need a trustworthy partner who can help you deliver your USA-bound sales on time and target like Janio Asia. With our flexible, end-to-end eCommerce logistics expertise, we can tailor unique logistics solutions for your business’s unique logistics needs. To request a quote or find out more about our services, reach out to us via the banner below:

Need to Ship to Southeast Asia via Sea, Air or Cross border Trucking? Get a quote here!

To find more on the latest news on logistics and eCommerce in Southeast Asia, consider signing up for our Janio newsletter.


  1. JP Morgan – E-commerce Payments Trends: United States
  2. We Are Social & Hootsuite – Digital 2020 USA
  3. DigitalCommerce360 – US ecommerce sales soar a record 44.4% in Q2 as pandemic sends shoppers online
  4. eMarketer – US Ecommerce 2020
  5. Clear Sale Blog – International E-Commerce Data Shows Surge in First-Time Online Shoppers
  6. CED Commerce – Here’s a complete List of eBay Top-selling items in 2020
  7. Ipsos and PayPal – PayPal Cross-Border Consumer Research 2018
  8. Beroe Inc – Cross-border E-commerce North America Market Intelligence | Price, Forecast, Cost Models, Market Analysis – Market Research
  9. Retail Customer Experience – Survey: U.S. shoppers will trade privacy (but not convenience) for better e-commerce fraud protection

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