The Winter Olympics are over, but in this episode of Motley Fool Answers, it's time for the second biennial Olympics of Foolishness, in which we award medals to various countries in business categories such as robotics, e-commerce, and start-ups. Which nations are leading the way in these key arenas? To determine the winners, hosts Alison Southwick and Robert Brokamp have recruited Motley Fool Asset Management's Bryan Hinmon and Tony Arsta.
In this segment, they judge the world's top economies in the race to move sales online. Think Amazon.com (NASDAQ:AMZN) is a ringer that should make us No. 1? Read on.
A full transcript follows the video.
This video was recorded on Feb. 20, 2018.
Alison Southwick: Our next category comes to us from Tony. Tony, the event we are going to talk about now is e-commerce. Why did you choose e-commerce?
Tony Arsta: Well, everybody knows about Amazon. Amazon is one of the biggest companies in the world, and it seems to be gathering all the headlines. Anytime Amazon even thinks about going into a new industry, people freak out about it.
In the U.S., Amazon is very top of mind. Everyone is thinking about retail. In the U.S., though, only about 9% of retail sales are done online. Amazon is the biggest player, there, but there's still plenty of room to grow. I think this is a category where we are already seeing huge disruption in the world, and we will see more over time.
Globally, about 8% of all global retail sales are done online, so the U.S. really isn't far ahead of the global average.
Southwick: Oh, that's crazy.
Arsta: Before I get to the top three, I'll go with the honorable mention, which is the host country of the Olympics, South Korea.
Bryan Hinmon: That's sweet, Tony.
Arsta: Korea was one of the initial leaders in e-commerce. They have had high internet penetration for a long time, now, and about 16% of retail sales in Korea are done online. They always had a large home shopping culture through television, so moving to mobile was a natural transition for them. That's not quite in the medalists, but it's up there.
Southwick: Let's hear who the bronze medal goes to.
Arsta: The bronze I'm cheating a little bit and giving it to Argentina. Argentina is not really the bronze. It's more of Brazil, but it's really just an excuse to talk about MercadoLibre, which is headquartered in Argentina.
Robert Brokamp: It's something we're always looking to do.
Southwick: So MercadoLibre is headquartered in Argentina, but it mostly serves Brazil.
Arsta: Right. More than 60% of MercadoLibre's sales are in Brazil, but they sell all over South America and Latin America. They've been called the eBay of Latin America, which I believe is a little bit short-sighted. They're doing so much more than that. They have a payment system. They're just taking over all the commerce in South America and that is an area where it is much lower penetration currently. It's closer to about 3% of sales but has many decades of growth ahead of it.
Southwick: And who's getting the silver?
Arsta: The silver has to go to the U.S., especially led by Amazon. I mentioned before that 9% of sales are online in the U.S. That makes it about a $300 billion industry. It's growing, I think, about 20% a year, so it's still high growth. That 9% is increasing by about 1% per year, so next year it will be closer to 10% and so on. The U.S., still a huge market. Still has a long way to go.
Southwick: And the gold goes to...
Southwick: China, again!
Brokamp: Oh, man! Racking up the gold.
Hinmon: Watch out for those guys.
Southwick: All right. Why China?
Arsta: Twenty-three percent of retail sales in China are online, and that's about $650 billion, so more than double the U.S. Alibaba (NYSE:BABA) is by far the largest player, there. They're about 60% of that market, I believe, so they're even bigger than Amazon in terms of merchandise sales.
The reason we're at 23% of retail is a term that I like to throw in there. I think it should be an Olympic sport called leapfrogging. We've had decades in the U.S. of malls being built and retail locations, and what we have in China is none of that. I didn't write down the square footage in the U.S., but the amount of mall space per person in the U.S. is, I believe, about five or six times as much as it is in China.
So, as an American, if you wanted to buy something, you'd just go down to the local mall. In China that never really existed, and now that people have money, the transition online is happening much faster. It's already much larger than the U.S. and it's growing more than 30% a year, so it's a huge market with a huge remaining opportunity.
Hinmon: To Tony's point about leapfrogging, China also doesn't have an incumbent credit card system like we do here in the U.S. People pay for everything, there, on their mobile phones. And so that link -- mobile phones to e-commerce -- is an easy one to draw and support that trend.
Arsta: And the largest mobile payment company is a company called Alipay, which is a partially owned subsidiary of Alibaba.
Southwick: Getting a piece everywhere through the process. Where does this trend end up, though, because we talked about MercadoLibre and Latin America, Alibaba and Asia, Amazon in America. Are they all three so massive that they will never buy the other one, or partner with the other one? Where do we go when the world is saturated?
Arsta: Amazon, I believe, has nearly as much retail sales outside of the U.S. as it has inside, but if you look at where that is composed, it's mostly developed Europe. Alibaba is trying to get into places like India, where they're actually competing head to head with investments made by Amazon. So, there is some head-to-head competition coming along. I don't believe Amazon's position in the U.S. is being competed against too hard, although Alibaba is trying to enter the U.S.
Southwick: Oh, really?
Arsta: Walmart owns a piece of another Chinese company called JD.com, so there is a lot of competition coming on, but Amazon has a big lead. In China, there's also a big lead, already, with Alibaba controlling 60% of the market, JD.com controlling 20%, and the rest is up for grabs. So, it's in places like India where we will see the most competition.
Hinmon: And the other side of that equation is consumer habits. Just because Alibaba is coming to the U.S. doesn't really mean anything, because most people in the U.S. already have the Amazon app installed on their phone, they already know the keystrokes without thinking about it, and they already have a trusted provider of goods that can be delivered to them same day or two days. So, it's not just availability that would take the disrupt. It's also consumer habits.