It's been almost 25 years since Amazon sold its first book online, and even as many have come to depend on online retailers, e-commerce still only represents 14% of retail purchases globally. But that's changing -- eMarketer reported last year that online purchases are expected to grow by double digits annually and exceed 22% of all retail spending by 2023. 

But that forecast was made before the coronavirus pandemic affected how we live, work, and shop. There are already signs that e-commerce adoption has accelerated in recent months. In order to capitalize on this growing trend, let's look outside the U.S. to three regional specialists -- JD.Com Inc (NASDAQ:JD) in China, MercadoLibre (NASDAQ:MELI) in Latin America, and Sea Limited (NYSE:SE) in Southeast Asia -- and see why investors are excited about this international trio.

But first, let's look at some statistics to understand the regional market opportunity where these companies operate.

A large and growing regional opportunity

China is by far the most developed e-commerce market, with 37% of all retail sales completed online, but there's still plenty of opportunity with three times the internet users of the U.S. and a strong growth rate of 27%.


United States


Southeast Asia

Latin America


330 million

1.4 billion

662 million

638 million

Internet users

285 million

903 million

416 million

362 million

2019 E-commerce as % of retail sales

11.8% (Q4 only)




2019 E-commerce growth





Data from eMarketer, U.S. Census Bureau, Statista, Worldometers, and MercadoLibre company report. Table by author.

Southeast Asia boasts more than double the internet users of the U.S., but still has only a tiny 2.4% of purchases made online. Latin America has almost double the population of the U.S., and as mobile devices become more accessible in the region, e-commerce sales will grow beyond the low sub-5% rate it has today.

The opportunity in these regions is incredible, but so are the leading e-commerce players that operate in them. Let's take a closer look at three of them. China's largest direct retailer is the second-largest e-commerce operator in China behind Alibaba, but it's the top online direct retailer in the region. It has built a robust network of over 730 warehouses across the region, which has been a competitive advantage during the pandemic, enabling it to quickly ramp back to full operational capacity after being shut down for the Chinese new year.

Computer keyboard with keys for online shopping cart, delivery truck, globe, and credit card.

Image source: Getty Images.'s growth has been tremendous. Over the span of 2015 to 2019, it grew the top line at a 34% compound annual growth rate. Its grocery and pharmacy businesses are now larger than any brick-and-mortar competitor. Its award-winning fulfillment services provide customers with a reliable online experience that has helped drive its annual active customer count to 387 million, a 25% increase from the prior year.

With 15 trillion expected to be spent online in China by 2023, this is one e-commerce player you should consider for your portfolio.

MercadoLibre: Latin America's e-commerce leader and more

Not only has MercadoLibre sold over $14.3 billion worth of merchandise on its website the last twelve months, it also processed an astounding $30.9 billion on its payments system, MercadoPago. Payment processing has grown to 42% of the top line last quarter and helped by a triple-digit growth rate year over year. E-commerce revenues posted strong growth as well, coming in at a 38% rate based on U.S. dollars, but is even more impressive (up 70%) when you look at it based on local currency.

As internet and mobile usage increase in the coming years, MercadoLibre is well positioned with its complete ecosystem of payments, fulfillment centers, and delivery network to help fuel the growth of online activity in the region. You could do well by becoming a shareholder in this high-quality operator.

Sea Limited: Southeast Asia's triple threat

Not only does Sea Limited have a growing e-commerce business and a payments platform, it's into online gaming too. Its digital entertainment division, Garena, accounted for over 50% of its revenue last quarter on the back of a 113% growth over the previous year.

Not to be outdone, its e-commerce business, Shopee, grew 84% in its most recent quarter year over year. The company doesn't disclose its payments revenue as it's rolled up under the Shopee segment, but it did have more than $1 billion in total transactions from over 10 million SeaMoney mobile wallet users in Q1 2020.

Sea Limited has a wide moat and a ton of momentum in a region where e-commerce is just getting started. Investors with a long-term view should consider owning this multifaceted growth company.

Are international stocks for you?

International stocks don't come risk-free. Lack of financial transparency, political and currency instability in emerging economies, and less visibility to hungry competitors are just a few of the risks. But these three solid operators have proven growth models in huge markets with plenty of opportunity to grow in the years ahead. 

Investors would be smart to start with a few shares in one or all of these regional specialists today and build their positions over time. Shareholders will certainly benefit as more of the 2.7 billion people in these regions come to depend on e-commerce as part of their daily lives.

This article represents the opinion of the writer, who may disagree with the “official” recommendation position of a Motley Fool premium advisory service. We’re motley! Questioning an investing thesis -- even one of our own -- helps us all think critically about investing and make decisions that help us become smarter, happier, and richer.