D2C cross-border ecommerce growth led by Millennial spend, as pandemic prompts over half (52%) to buy direct from international online brands


The rise in international direct-to-consumer (D2C) purchases over the past six months has been led by Millennial demographics, with reduced access to stores during the pandemic prompting over half (52%) of 25-34 year olds to buy direct from international online brands, the latest data from eShopWorld (ESW) reveals.

ESW’s ‘Global Voices: Pre-Peak Pulse 2021’ survey of almost 15,000 consumers across fourteen countries showed a further 52% were motivated to buy online during the pandemic, rising to 58% on average for 25- 44 year olds, as shuttered stores or reduced access to physical shops prompted them to digitally purchase items online they would normally have validated and bought in-store.   This was most keenly felt in South Africa and India (both 63%), followed by the UAE (56%), China (53%) and the US (52%).

And reduced access to stores also prompted a boost in cross-border commerce; almost half (46%) of global shoppers said this had prompted them to buy direct from an online international brand, rising to 52% of global shoppers aged 25 – 34.  Indian and Chinese (both 61%), Mexican (59%) and Russian (50%) consumers the most likely to have made international D2C purchases direct from an international brand.

As a result, traditionally ‘high contact’ items that would have previously been validated – either by trying on or testing – in-store proved the most popular type of cross-border purchase over the past six months.  A quarter (25%) of global shoppers bought clothing online outside of their domestic market, while footwear (19%), luxury goods (18%) and Health & Beauty and skincare (17% respectively) also topped the list of the most popular international ecommerce purchases.  Once again, Millennials and Gen Z shoppers led the way, making cross-border purchases at three times the rate at of Baby Boomers (those aged 57 – 75 years old).

Of the top five most popular cross-border ecommerce categories, luxury grew the fastest over the past 6 months, up +6% compared to the end of 2020, followed by skincare and fragrance (+4% respectively).

This boost to cross-border luxury purchases, driven mostly by younger demographics of shoppers, may also have been prompted by new international buying behaviours caused by the pandemic, ESW’s data shows.

56% of global shoppers admitted to spending more online as a coping mechanism, either treating themselves to ‘pick me ups’ to reward themselves for getting through lockdowns or to alleviate the emotional stress of the pandemic.  Meanwhile, over a quarter (28%) said they’d bought more online ‘gifts’ or ‘treats’ for friends and family during the pandemic to make up for not being able to see them in person.

As many countries begin to ease covid-19 restrictions, despite 57% of the global shoppers surveyed saying the pandemic had opened their eyes to the convenience and choice on offer online – increasing to 63% among Millennials - 71% said that post-pandemic they would continue to purchase via a mix of digital and physical channels, highlighting the importance of omnichannel capabilities in retailers’ international commerce strategies.

Patrick Bousquet-Chavanne, President and CEO, Americas at ESW, commented: “Brands that understand the evolution of traditional retailing see the importance of blending their direct international e-commerce trading with their existing omnichannel structure. Stores of the future will be experiential meccas, where brands will espouse and reinforce the brand personas and experiences they are building on social media. But the transactional engine for future growth has undoubtedly accelerated into digital channels, and it seems unlikely that trend will ever reverse.”

Martim Avillez Oliveira, Chief Commercial Officer, EMEA and APAC at ESW, added: “To succeed retailers must double down on their efforts to create a holistic, deep level of understanding of international markets – across all of their sales channels and customer touchpoints – so that they can offer localised, customer-centric and cost-competitive shopping experiences.  Only then can they truly open up the cross-border commerce opportunity, by maintaining both the loyalty of existing customers while attracting new ones.”

Brands partnering with ESW can enter new international markets in as little as six weeks, up to six times faster than if they attempted to do so on their own – all while engaging directly with customers and retaining ownership of all the data collected during the shopping process.


ESW’s latest consumer survey was fielded from 14,697 consumers in 14 countries (UK, France, Germany, US, Canada, Mexico, South Africa, UAE, India, Russia, China, South Korea, Japan and Australia), who were surveyed online in July 2021.

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