Amazon is Not The Only Show in Town

The US is the world’s largest economy and the second-largest ecommerce market (after China), with annual sales of $587 billion. Online retail accounts for 11.3% of total retail sales.

Many of the world’s global ecommerce companies hail from the US, including Amazon and eBay, and the US continues to lead the world in technology overall. Another advantage for the US is its large population of 328 million. Americans are voracious consumers, providing a lot of growth potential for domestic companies.

But ecommerce in the US is not without its challenges. The relatively low population density and large distances between major cities mean shipping is slower and more expensive than in other developed countries. Sales taxes and other laws vary widely between states, creating barriers to trade. Online grocery shopping has been slow to take off. These factors may be why online retail as a proportion of total retail is almost twice as high in China and the UK than in the US.

Still, the strength of ecommerce and online marketplaces in the US should not be underestimated. As well as the big players, the US has strong online competition from both established retailers and niche marketplaces, with loyal customer bases and some innovative business models.

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The largest online marketplaces in the USA

There’s no doubt about the dominance of Amazon in the US ecommerce market. The company is simply in a different league to its competitors, with over 2 billion monthly visits.

eBay is a distant second with around 640 million monthly visits. Amazon is way out in front, even taking account of eBay being a pure-play marketplace, while Amazon’s marketplace accounts for a little over half of its total sales.

Retailers Walmart and Target are next in the list, but the two companies have very different ecommerce strategies. Walmart’s ecommerce business was invigorated by the purchase of Jet.com and, after years of neglect, the Walmart marketplace is now growing rapidly. Target’s “Plus” online marketplace is relatively new and small, and is not a significant driver of growth.

What the US market does have is great strength in depth, with successful online marketplaces in a variety of niche categories. Etsy is a powerhouse built on the rather unlikely category of handmade crafts, Wayfair sells furniture and homewares, Newegg specializes in video gaming, Poshmark is a consumer-to-consumer fashion marketplace, then there’s GunBroker, Reverb, TheRealReal and many more.

Smaller marketplaces often struggle to gain traction in other parts of the world, but in the US a niche focus seems to help companies build a loyal customer base rather than prevent them from gaining the critical mass of buyers and sellers that all marketplaces need to function.

Amazon in the US

Amazon

Amazon is the most popular online marketplace in the US, with 2.3 billion visits per month. The US is Amazon’s largest country by far, but its 39% of global traffic is outweighed by international markets as a whole.

Amazon’s global gross merchandise volume (GMV) is estimated at $335 billion and 70% of sales originate in North America, according to its 2019 annual report, making an estimated US GMV of $235 billion. It is interesting that the US accounts for 39% of Amazon’s website traffic but 70% of sales, suggesting that US traffic is almost twice as valuable to Amazon as international traffic.

Amazon does not have a global account system, so existing sellers from outside North America will need to register for a new account to sell in the US. However, Amazon does have a unified account system for North America, so sellers from Canada and Mexico should be able to sell in the US using the same login.

There is a common perception in the US that Amazon is the only online marketplace to be taken seriously, and that is not without good reason. Amazon’s share of total online retail sales is estimated to be 39%, and is still growing despite already being so far ahead of other retailers. However, other online marketplaces may be worth exploring for incremental sales, and some product niches, such as crafts and fashion, have very strong alternative marketplaces to explore.

As Amazon’s home country, the US is usually the first market where new services and programs are rolled out. US sellers were the first to gain access to FBA, Seller Fulfilled Prime, listing videos, Launchpad, new advertising opportunities and much more.

Amazon’s Prime membership program has been highly successful in the US, with 51% of households subscribing to the service. Prime members spend an average of $1,400 per year on Amazon, versus $600 per year for non-Prime members, which helps to explain Amazon’s higher sales in the US compared to international markets. Prime comes with a range of benefits including guaranteed two-day delivery, and Amazon is investing in its fulfillment capabilities to offer one-day and same-day delivery to many parts of the country.

eBay in the US

eBay

eBay is the second-most popular online marketplace in the US, with 640 million visits per month. The US accounts for 39% of eBay’s global traffic, the same as Amazon. eBay’s global gross merchandise volume (GMV) is reported as $90 billion, making US GMV approximately $35 billion, based on the assumption that sales are in proportion with traffic levels.

eBay began in 1995, and the business grew quickly during the early years of public internet adoption and the dot-com boom. It was favored in financial markets, due to its pure technology-led business model with no need for physical inventory or expensive warehouses.

eBay soon became a household name, with a unique proposition that anyone can sell anything using an online auction. For many years it was thought that auctions would be the dominant selling format online and many of eBay’s competitors, including Yahoo! and Amazon, launched auction marketplaces of their own.

As online retail evolved through the first decade of the 2000s, eBay’s image remained unchanged as an online auction flea market. That perception remains today, despite most eBay sales now being fixed-price, mass-produced, new goods sold by businesses rather than individuals.

eBay’s share of US online retail sales is estimated as only 4.7%, far behind old rival Amazon whose share is 39%. All of eBay’s early strengths now seem to be weaknesses, as the ecommerce pioneer is held back by outdated perceptions and a chaotic marketplace that resists attempts to standardize product information and provide consistent shipping and customer service.

eBay has a global account system, so selling is the same in every country and sellers have a consistent feedback profile worldwide. Listings are specific to each eBay site, however, and do not automatically show across all countries.

Walmart.com in the US

Walmart

Walmart, founded in 1962, is a multinational retail corporation, the world’s largest company by revenue, and the largest private employer in the world. Despite thousands of stores, unbeatable brand recognition and near-limitless resources, Walmart failed to make much of an impact on ecommerce until quite recently.

Following the acquisition of Jet.com in 2016, Walmart changed its ecommerce strategy completely. This was not by developing and growing the Jet.com brand, but by putting Jet.com’s team, led by Marc Lore, in charge of ecommerce at Walmart.

Walmart’s online marketplace has now been rejuvenated, after many years of stagnation since its launch in 2009, and its base has grown to 50,000 sellers. Walmart does not report what percentage of its online sales are made by marketplace sellers, but it is clear that growing the marketplace is an important part of Walmart’s overall ecommerce strategy.

Walmart.com has 446 million visits from the US per month, representing 95% of its global traffic. It has a 5.3% share of US online retail sales, making it second (but a distant second) to Amazon’s 39%. Online sales are estimated at $50 billion.

Selling on Walmart favors US businesses, requiring a US business entity and warehouse. There is an approval process for new sellers, taking up to three weeks, and Walmart asks for at least 10% of a seller’s products to be uploaded before their listings are approved.

Despite more barriers to entry at Walmart, catalog quality control and seller support can be lax, giving the marketplace a chaotic feel from the seller’s perspective.

Wish in the US

Wish

Wish, founded in 2010, provides a visually-driven shopping experience built mainly for use on mobile phones. The products, which are very inexpensive and mostly ship directly from China, include clothing for under $5 and smartwatches for $10. Shipping can take weeks and product quality is usually low, but the marketplace has been very successful.

Wish is the most downloaded global shopping app, and has $10 billion in GMV. Its global traffic of 112 million monthly visits places it as the 21st most popular online marketplace in the world. Wish has a diverse international audience, but it attracts more traffic from the US than any other country, at 22%.

The Wish marketplace is developing rapidly, with new Fulfillment by Wish (FBW) and store collection programs aiming to speed up shipping, while merchant performance and product verification systems have been built to address quality issues. Wish’s standard fee is 15% of the total sale price.

Sears in the US

Sears

Sears is a well known brick-and-mortar department store retailer founded in 1893, and grew to be the largest retailer in the US in the 1980s. It had over 3,500 stores and was headquartered in the world’s tallest building. Sears has been in continuous decline since then, closing more and more stores and narrowly surviving bankruptcy in 2018.

Sears has been doing better online. Its website attracts 19 million visits per month, 93% of which are from within the US. The Sears marketplace was launched in 2009, and the Fulfilled by Sears program began in 2013.

In 2018, Sears made an agreement to integrate thousands of eBay sellers into the Sears marketplace to broaden its product selection. It continues to be possible to sell directly on Sears as a marketplace seller, but the eBay integration has created a rather confusing buyer experience.

Sears commission rates range from 8% to 20%, and there is a $39.99 monthly program fee. Sears sells products in over 20 different categories, but jewelry is a particularly strong segment for the company. This connects back to its department store roots. Sears retains a reputation for selling quality jewelry, and despite its decline is still a trusted name for many consumers.

Other online marketplaces in the US

Other US online marketplaces

Five other online marketplaces feature in our list above.

Target is a brick-and-mortar retailer, with $75 billion in annual sales. The Target website has 250 million monthly visits from the US. Target.com is a large online retailer but its marketplace, known as Target Plus, is invite-only and has grown slowly. One year after launch in February 2019, it had a little over 100 sellers offering 165,000 products.

Etsy is a very successful pure-play online marketplace, with 170 million monthly visits from the US and $5 billion in annual GMV globally. It specializes in handmade crafts and gives sellers a platform to showcase themselves personally, in stark contrast to Amazon and many other marketplaces.

Wayfair is an online retailer and marketplace specializing in furniture and homewares. It has an annual marketplace GMV of $8 billion, and 87 million monthly visits from the US. Instead of charging a commission, Wayfair sets the retail price of products and pays merchants the wholesale cost, following a dropshipping model.

Overstock has 26 million monthly visits from the US, representing 94% of its global total, and annual revenue of $1.5 billion. Overstock is mainly known for furniture and homewares, but also sells jewelry, apparel and other products. Overstock closed its original auction marketplace in 2011. It still has some marketplace sellers, but activity is low with many products out of stock.

Newegg is an online retailer and marketplace selling a range of products, but with a focus on electronics and especially video gaming. Annual sales are $2.25 billion and the website has 23 million monthly visits from the US. Newegg has its own fulfillment program, Shipped by Newegg, and three different seller membership levels. The standard membership level has no monthly fee, and commission rates range from 8% to 15%.

About the data

This article covers the top ten online marketplaces in the US (either pure-play marketplaces or retailers with a third-party marketplace) based on total monthly visits from within the US, based on data from SimilarWeb. A global list of online marketplaces, based on the same data, is available in The World’s Top Online Marketplaces.

We have excluded online retailers whose marketplace forms a very small part of their overall business, as well as marketplaces with a consumer-to-consumer model, and marketplaces with a very narrow product niche.

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Online Marketplaces in the USA: Amazon is Not The Only Show in Town