Ecommerce had an explosive year in 2020, and the biggest winners were the retailers ranked in this year’s edition of the Digital Commerce 360 Top 500. The 2021 cohort grew ecommerce sales 45.3% in 2020, much faster than the 34.2% growth of the North American online market.
The Top 500 is an annual ranking of the largest retailers in North America by the prior year’s online sales. Digital Commerce 360, formerly Internet Retailer, began ranking the Top 300 online retailers in 2004 and expanded the list to the Top 500 in 2006. In 2012, we started tracking the Top 1000 retailers, and now we publish products ranking the Top 2000 leading North American merchants. The Top 500 has been Digital Commerce 360’s flagship products for more than a decade.
The 45.3% growth to reach $849.46 billion in sales is by far the largest year-over-year growth since Digital Commerce 360 began tracking North America’s 500 ecommerce leaders, according to the just-released analysis report. It’s more than two times the Top 500 growth in 2019. The increase is also more than double the median growth of 18.0% over the last decade.
As consumers searched for essential items during the pandemic, they (not surprisingly) turned first to the best-known retailers. These large merchants also tended to have the most inventory, which became a crucial differentiator as factory shutdowns in Asia and elsewhere created shortages of many in-demand products. Both factors helped the biggest retailers in the Top 500 grow fast. For example, Top 500 merchants like Walmart Inc. (No. 2), Amazon.com Inc. (No. 1) and Target Corp. (No. 6) added a combined $265 billion in U.S. web revenue to the $791.70 billion U.S. ecommerce market in 2020, accounting for a third of the market.
The gains made by the larger Top 500 retailers stand out when you divide the Top 500 by groups of 100. The fastest growth was among those ranked 1-100; these merchants grew 47.4%, even faster than the Top 500 as a whole. Conversely, in 2019 the 401-500 cohort recorded the fastest growth at 18.9%, and in 2020 they were the slowest-growing group at 27.9%.
Online retail leaders
The top 10 online retailers grew at an even faster clip than the top 100, yet another signal that many consumers turned to recognizable merchants during the pandemic. The top 10 collectively grew web sales 52.5% in 2020, nearly five percentage points faster than the top 100 and more than seven percentage points faster than the overall Top 500. These retailers accounted for 62.8% of Top 500 sales, up from 59.9% in 2019.
The leading 10 online retailers in the Top 500 look slightly different this year. For example, Walmart snuck into the second spot, and Kroger Co. (No. 8) and Costco Wholesale Corp. (No. 10) broke into the top 10 for the first time.
Amazon maintains its spot as the No. 1 online retailer in North America by a large margin. Amazon’s sales alone represented 35.7% of all Top 500 sales. That’s a significant share, but it’s notable that the share is down from 36.7% in 2019—a sign of the gains made by other big competitors in 2020.
Popular online retail categories
The pandemic benefited some retailers more than others, and merchants’ movement within the Top 500 rankings makes it clear. For example, toys and hobbies retailers jumped an average 24 spots in the rankings, according to our analysis. In contrast, apparel retailers dropped an average 15 positions in the Top 500. Food and beverage merchants moved up an average 23 ranks, whereas jewelry retailers fell an average 10 spots.
These patterns coincide with consumer shopping habits in 2020 and the fastest-growing merchandise categories. Food, toys, electronics, hardware, sporting goods and housewares advanced the most online last year. Food and beverage retailers, for instance, grew 104.8% online, as stay-at-home mandates drove shoppers online—often for the first time—to order groceries for pickup and delivery.
Toys and hobbies retailers, which include everything from merchants that sell puzzles and video game consoles to musical instruments, jumped 68.2% year over year. In fact, the fastest-growing Top 500 retailer was Joann Inc. (No. 136), which grew an impressive 342.3% in 2020. Three toys and hobbies retailers appear in the top 15 fastest growers list, and it’s worth noting that no retailer in this category was among the 15 fastest growers in the previous two editions of the Top 500, showing the change in purchasing habits fueled by quarantine.
The 106-page 15th edition of the Top 500 report includes an in-depth analysis of the U.S. ecommerce market, online retail leaders, growth by merchandise category and type, Amazon and Walmart’s rivalry and much more. The just-released Digital Commerce 360 2021 Top 500 Report includes:
- A full list of the Top 500 online merchants in North America
- Numerous charts with data including the fastest-growing retailers in 2020 and over the last five years, merchants with the biggest declines, and top retailers by category and merchant type
- In-depth category data with key metrics like growth, conversion rate, website traffic and online and total sales
- Sections on Amazon and Walmart, the U.S. ecommerce market, shifts in the Top 500 rankings, bankruptcies and acquisitions, new ecommerce trends and more
This article is based on analysis from Digital Commerce 360’s 2021 Top 500 Report. This report is available to Digital Commerce 360’s Gold and Platinum members, or available to purchase for $499. You can learn how to purchase the Top 500 Report here.