Online shopping and e-commerce have always been thriving industries, but the pandemic created an even greater consumer demand for online products. So if you’ve ever wondered, “What do people buy the most online?” you’re in luck: We’ve got all the answers for you right here. Nowadays, most people don’t think twice about purchasing items from an online store.
More than two billion consumers shopped online in 2020 and 2021, and the number keeps growing. In fact, by the end of 2021, online sales had already flown past the $5 trillion mark, forecast to grow even more until it reaches approximately $8.1 trillion in 2026.
So, what kind of products are these billions of people purchasing online? In this guide, we’ll break down all the most important online shopping statistics, some of which might surprise you. The top three categories are clothing items, shoes, and tech products, but it doesn’t stop there.
What Categories Sell the Most Online?
Are you wondering which products sell the most online? The top e-commerce categories in the U.S. for 2022 include:
- Consumer electronics and computers: $219.33 billion
- Clothing, apparel, and accessories: $203.75 billion
- Home furnishings and furniture: $129.45 billion
- Personal care, health, and beauty: $111.03 billion
- Automobiles and parts: $86.26 billion
- Food and beverage: $78.28 billion
- Toys and hobby items: $74.03 billion
- Entertainment (music, videos, books): $54.02 billion
- Office supplies and equipment: $19.35 billion
- Other: $58.32 billion
Globally, the top e-commerce categories for 2022 are:
- Electronics: $1,010 billion
- Fashion and apparel: $990 billion
- Toys and hobby items (DIY): $570 billion
- Home furnishings and furniture: $500 billion
- Personal care, health, and beauty: $420 billion
The top trending product categories change with the seasons. Along with their approximate market value, these currently include:
- Clothing and apparel: $2 trillion
- Electronics and tech products: $1.14 trillion
- Footwear and shoes: $530 billion
- Pet products: $232 billion
- Toys: $94.7 billion
- Power tools: $56.1 billion
- Wireless charging stations: $40.24 billion
- Pencils and pens: $13.9 billion
- Reusable water bottles: $12 billion
- Jigsaw puzzles: $790 million
Clothing/apparel and electronics clearly take the top spots in terms of online retail sales.
Online Shopping Statistics
U.S. online shoppers are spending more and more via the web, with about 76% of the population reporting that they shop at e-commerce retailers, and 62% considering themselves “regular shoppers” since they make online purchases daily, weekly, or monthly, The same source found that about 56% of Americans prefer to shop in a brick-and-mortar store than online.
In addition, 57% of online shoppers go to Amazon when searching for products, compared to 31% who use search engines. In fact, the online shopping behemoth (undisputed ruler of e-tailers) is beginning to outpace search engines in terms of shopping inspiration and product searches.
U.S. online shoppers prefer to buy products online for a few reasons—namely, the convenience of it all:
- 64% liked the ability to shop at any time of the day or night
- 61% liked being able to find the product they wanted quickly and easily
- 61% like shopping online because it saves time over shopping in a physical store.
86% of Millennials in the U.S. (born in the mid- 1980s-late 1990s) shop on the internet. In addition, 67% of Millennials prefer shopping online to traditional in-store shopping. In fact, around 30% of all online retail sales in 2021 were from Millennials.
About 80% of Gen X-ers (born in the mid-1960s to mid-1980s) shop online, and 55% prefer online shopping to spend their money at a brick-and-mortar store.
Their seniors, the Baby Boomers (born 1946-mid-1960s) shop online in lower numbers, with 60% shopping at e-commerce retailers and over 40% stating that online is their preferred way to shop.
When it comes to gendered behavior, women tend to enjoy the shopping experience more and are more influenced by product ratings, reviews, and online trends. Conversely, men tend to be more task-oriented, viewing the shopping process as a straightforward mission to purchasing a particular desired product and relying on product info to make their decisions. Men spend 28% more than women when shopping online, but women spend more time exploring options on the internet during their shopping exploits.
- Men are responsible for 51% of all online shopping purchases
- 57% purchase items that are on sale or discounted
- 45% use a tablet or smartphone to make online purchases
- 39% purchase electronics or tech products
- Women are responsible for 49% of all online purchases
- 74% purchase items that are on sale or discounted
- 34% use a tablet or smartphone to make online purchases
- 18% purchase electronics or tech products
Did you know that more people use smartphones and mobile devices to purchase products online than desktops or laptops? Yes, the mobile device is America’s preference shopping tool for window shopping and browsing, as 61% of online retail traffic comes from smartphones and mobile devices. In addition, mobile retail commerce will likely surpass 45% of all sales in the U.S. by the year 2025.
However, while mobile devices are the preferred method of retail traffic, desktops are still the preferred method of order placement. Furthermore, the average online order value is 30% higher on a desktop computer than on a mobile device.
So, what does this mean? Simply put, the checkout process on most e-commerce websites lacks the mobile responsiveness that makes it fast and easy for consumers to purchase their products. In fact, nine out of ten U.S. online shoppers believe that their e-commerce retail experience could improve. Here are their biggest annoyances:
- 67% believe that web pages and clickable links are too small
- 42% cite security concerns regarding their personal information
- 36% become annoyed with interruptions from apps, messages, and other device programs
- 36% say that it’s too difficult to find what they’re looking for when shopping on a mobile device
Factors That Affect Online Shopping Behavior
What incentives influence how consumers purchase items online? The top trending products (as opposed to the product categories we discussed above) for 2022 include:
Sportswear and athleisure: The global market for athleisure may surpass $549.41 billion by the year 2028.
Eco-friendly products: Sustainability is a driving factor for many online shoppers. Consumers are far more eco-conscious when shopping online than they ever were before. Furthermore, 85% of consumers state they’ve moved more towards purchasing sustainable, eco-friendly items than they have in the past five years. In fact, 60% of consumers chose “sustainability” as a critical factor when making a purchase decision.
Wall Art: When the pandemic created the new “work-from-home” lifestyle, online shopping exploded – and so did the market for wall art. This product category trends year-round, and retailers can customize their art to suit virtually any taste.
Drinkware: Drinkware and glassware are two hot-trending products. One survey completed by the Heinz company showed that almost 60% of people have an emotional attachment to their favorite coffee mug. In addition, reusable water bottles are another trending item. As a result, the market value of this industry will likely surpass $11.5 billion by 2028.
Why do people purchase items online? What incentives drive them to push that ever-elusive “Buy Now” button? Here are the leading factors for e-commerce sales in 2020:
- Free delivery: 53%
- Coupons and discounts: 41%
- Ratings and reviews from other customers: 35%
- Hassle-free returns policy: 33%
- Fast and easy online checkout: 30%
- Next-day home delivery: 28%
- Loyalty and reward points: 27%
- Positive reputation on social media: 22%
- Eco-friendly products: 21%
- Ability to split payments interest-free: 20%
Online Shopping Satisfaction
So consumers are shopping more online than ever before—but are they happy about that? Although the pandemic pushed e-commerce to greater heights than ever, the increase was partly due to necessity. Let’s look at some sources of satisfaction for online shoppers:
- Ease of checkout process: 81%
- Wide selection of brands and high-quality products: 80%
- Multiple shipping options: 73%
- Choice of different payment options: 71%
If free shipping is available, 80% of consumers are more likely to purchase a product, and 64% of people are more likely to buy a product if the online store offers free exchanges and returns.
While shoppers like free delivery, plenty of discount codes, and an easy checkout process, it’s clear that many e-commerce stores don’t provide a stellar customer experience. In fact, a Contentsquare survey showed that 15% of shoppers are unhappy with their online shopping experience.
Some common sources of dissatisfaction for online shoppers include:
- Websites using advertisements and pop-ups: 49%
- Crashing or freezing during checkout: 48%
- Discount codes that fail during checkout: 45%
- Inability to find the product they’re looking for: 42%
- An app or website suddenly going offline: 23%
In fact, almost 33% of those respondents associate online shopping with anxiety, boredom, and frustration. About 30% only feel “content” with their experience.
However, despite those sources of dissatisfaction, about 37% say they will avoid shopping in traditional stores and will continue to purchase their items online during the holiday season.
Future of Online Shopping
The impact of COVID-19 on online shopping has resulted in the market rising sharply in 2020 and 2021. According to BigCommerce, the pandemic caused online retail sales to grow by 25%. About 33% of men and 25% of women agreed the pandemic had an impact on how much money they spent on products.
Although the pandemic-fueled e-commerce sales increase has slowed now at the end of 2022, that doesn’t mean fewer people are shopping online. In 2023, experts estimate the online retail purchase forecast to increase from 14.1% to 22%.
The online retail purchase forecast isn’t just rising for U.S. online shoppers. The global e-commerce sales trend will likely pass $6.51 trillion by the end of 2023, with online stores snagging about 22.3% of total retail sales.
Insider Intelligence provides some interesting global e-commerce statistics about Latin America, the U.K., and India:
- The Latin America e-commerce market experienced a 22.4% increase from 2021 to 2022, from $85 billion to $104 billion.
- The United Kingdom online retail purchase forecast will likely rise by 42.88% within the next few years to $85.7 billion.
- India has one of the top five fastest-growing e-commerce markets in the world, with a 25.5% online sales growth rate in 2022.
Global e-Commerce Sales Trends
More statistics regarding American and global e-commerce sales trends demonstrate that shopping for fashion and apparel dominates online global commerce, followed closely by items for adult and child play, including toys, hobbies, electronics, and media.
Global e-Commerce Sales Forecast – Top Online Shopping Categories
- Fashion and apparel: $759.5 billion
- Toys, hobby, and DIY: $590.7 billion
- Electronics, tech, and media: $542.4 billion
- Food and personal care items: $468.5 billion
- Appliances and furniture: $362.9 billion
U.S. e-Commerce Sales Forecast – Top Online Shopping Categories
- Fashion and apparel: $142.8 billion
- Electronics, tech, and media: $100.1 billion
- Toys, hobby, and DIY: $93.3 billion
- Appliances and furniture: $76.6 billion
- Food and personal care items: $56.4 billion
Will Online Shopping Replace Traditional Shopping?
Here’s the big question on everyone’s minds: Will online shopping eventually replace the traditional shopping experience at brick-and-mortar stores? What are the ramifications of comparing online vs. physical brick-and-mortar shopping? Consider these statistics about digital shopping and traditional shopping:
Around 40% of consumers make at least one in-store purchase a week, compared to only 27% of consumers who shop online at least once per week. In addition, 65% of shoppers say they prefer going to a physical store to purchase products to avoid those pesky delivery and shipping fees, and 60% also prefer in-store shopping because they can take their purchases home immediately instead of waiting for delivery.
Below, we included the percentages of online vs. physical shopping as it has changed from year to year:
- 2017: 12.9% online vs. 87.1% in-store
- 2018: 14.1% online vs. 85.9% in-store
- 2019: 15.5% online vs. 84.5% in-store
- 2020: 19.1% online vs. 80.9% in-store
- 2021: 19.1% online vs. 80.9% in-store
So, what’s the takeaway here? Is online shopping poised to take over traditional shopping in the upcoming years? Well, it’s not very likely. However, there’s no denying the incredible rise in popularity of online shopping, even though the online shopping numbers have dropped slightly post-pandemic, when the inability to shop in public places created a huge need for ways to procure both basic needs (such as groceries and food items) and also luxury items online.
To sum it up, traditional shopping still claims the larger market share both nationally and globally. However, as the digital shopping experience has improved, consumers will continue to turn to e-commerce stores in the near future.
What Product Should You Sell Online?
It’s a fact that owning and operating an e-commerce store can be incredibly lucrative – just ask Jeff Bezos! His dream of an online bookstore led to Amazon.com. Of course, that doesn’t mean your online business is guaranteed success or phenomenal profits. How do you know what type of products you should sell online? Here’s an example of how many successful “e-tailers” approach their selection process:
- Focus on product categories where you have real-life expertise.
- Research easy-to-sell products and digital trends using online platforms like social media (Facebook, Instagram, etc.) and Google Trends.
- Analyze current market data to determine which product categories are growing.
- Narrow down your potential categories by searching for low-competition market niches. Choose between niche products (for small, specific consumer groups) and commoditized products (popular, high-demand products people need such as food, clothing, etc.).
- Gather sales data, including keyword difficulty, eBay and Amazon sales trends, search volume, etc.
- Use that data to determine which product categories offer the highest chance of success.
While most e-sellers are marketing manufactured goods, the rise of e-commerce has given birth to the online sale of handmade products and crafts items. The global handicrafts market stood at $680 billion in 2021, dominated by online marketplaces such as Etsy and Facebook Marketplace. Trending items in 2023 include
- handcrafted jewelry
- soaps, creams, bath bombs, and body scrubs
- candles and home fragrances
- wood-burned crafts
- hand-sewn face masks
- custom graphic t-shirts
- home decor such as farmhouse-style or Boho-chic
- Knitted or crocheted items
- Baby toys and accessories like bibs and plush animals
- Photo-printed objects like throw pillows or tote bags
- Pet toys, pet accessories, and custom pet items
What Do People Buy the Most Online? The Takeaway
After researching and compiling data, we’ve got an answer to the question “What do people buy the most online?” Simply put, electronics ($1,010 billion), fashion ($990 billion), and toys ($570 billion) are the top product categories in the global e-commerce market. However, we were surprised to see that products like pens, pencils, jigsaw puzzles, and reusable water bottles were in the top spots for e-commerce sales. Ultimately, there’s no doubt that online shopping is here to stay and will continue to grow in the coming years.