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US ecommerce forecast revised upward, 18% growth expected in 2021

More than 1 in 5 digital buyers will use a ‘buy now, pay later’ service

Following a strong Q1 fueled by government stimulus, we have increased our forecast for US retail ecommerce sales in 2021. US ecommerce sales are expected to grow 17.9% this year (higher than the 13.7% predicted in January 2021) to reach $933.30 billion. That pushes ecommerce’s share of total US retail sales to 15.3%, up from 14.0% last year. Ecommerce is now on track to surpass 20% of total retail by 2024.

Total retail sales this year will increase by 7.9% to $6.083 trillion, surpassing $6 trillion for the first time. The two fastest-growing categories are apparel and accessories (up 28.7%) and home furnishings (up 11.4%). And because online sales account for about one-third of both categories’ total sales, those sectors will help drive overall ecommerce growth as well.

Meanwhile, total food and beverage sales are expected to show much flatter growth (3.3%) in 2021, after growing 11.8% in 2020. This comes despite ecommerce food and beverage sales growing by 21.7% this year, as online grocery shopping and dine-at-home behaviors spill over from last year. Another category that will see flatter growth this year, especially on the ecommerce side, is consumer electronics, whose online growth will drop to 12.0% after growing by 33.9% last year.

Buy Now, Pay Later

For the first time, we are forecasting the number of US consumers who will use a buy now, pay later (BNPL) service. This year, 45.1 million people ages 14 and older will use a BNPL platform, up 81.2% over last year. This represents more than one-fifth (21.5%) of digital buyers in the US. By 2025, that figure will grow to more than one-third.

Younger consumers are driving adoption. Millennials account for 42.7% of BNPL users 14 and older. That’s followed by Gen Zers, which account for 30.3%.

“The pandemic has accelerated the growth of the BNPL industry by offering consumers more flexibility and easier payment plans,” said Oscar Orozco, eMarketer forecasting director at Insider Intelligence. “The surge in ecommerce has also been a boon to the industry, as consumers have relied more on digital shopping to fulfill their needs. BNPL solutions also provide an alternative to consumers who have reservations about credit cards with high interest rates. Merchants have increasingly adopted these services at the point-of-sale as a way to attract consumers, increase average order value, improve conversion rates, and drive sales.”

The top players in the space are Klarna, Afterpay, and Affirm. Klarna leads with 48.6% of BNPL users, followed by Afterpay with 28.1% and Affirm with 13.4%.