Cross-border e-commerce increasingly helps micro, small and medium-sized enterprises (MSMEs) to become more competitive in international markets. But for companies to realize that potential, they need more and better market intelligence on e-commerce. 

A new publication from the International Trade Centre (ITC) and AliResearch, What Sells in E-commerce: New Evidence from Asian LDCs, aims to provide some of that intelligence. 

Released today (16 April) to coincide with the opening of UNCTAD’s e-Commerce week, ‘What Sells in E-commerce’ uses market data from Alibaba.com, the world’s largest online business-to-business (B2B) marketplace, to gauge demand trends by identifying which products from five Asian least developed countries – Bangladesh, Cambodia, Lao People's Democratic Republic, Myanmar and Nepal – are attracting the most purchase inquiries from abroad. 

Compared to traditional offline trade, the report suggests that e-commerce tends to focus on higher value-added products. For example, among Cambodia’s e-commerce exports, fresh mangos and cashew nuts replace cereals as the main agricultural products attracting demand.

E-commerce also helps countries to diversify their export base. Apparel and clothing account for around 86% of Bangladesh’s total exports, but only 47% of online demand. Agriculture products, food and beverages, and consumer electronic goods fill the gap. 

MSMEs are increasingly using e-commerce to export. According to data extracted from Alibaba.com, the number of sellers from the five Asian least developed countries grew by more 30% annually in the past two years. Online trade in the gifts and crafts sectors is increasingly populated by MSMEs, which attract more demand over the internet than they do offline. 

‘What Sells in E-commerce’ also finds that the growth of e-commerce is driving demand in new sectors. For example, beauty and personal care products, though insignificant in offline trade, feature prominently in Cambodia and Myanmar’s online trade, and is the fastest-growing category for Bangladesh. Hair extensions, a lightweight and high-value product ideal for e-commerce, is the main product in this category and is being exported across the globe. 

Data show changes in the competitiveness of a variety of sectors. For example, demand for textiles and leather products from Lao People’s Democratic Republic increased rapidly in the past two years, suggesting a rapid increase in business competitiveness.

‘What Sells in E-commerce: New Evidence from Asian LDCs’ is ITC’s first publication using proprietary e-commerce data to provide market intelligence for MSMEs to identify demand for their products in international markets. It sets an example for collaboration between public and private institutions in sharing data and using big data analysis for informed policies. 

Source: International Trade Centre

Illustration Photo: Container ship (CC0 Creative Commons from Pixabay.com)

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