The saving grace of 2020 ad spend? Ecommerce platforms

Tens of billions will go toward ads on Amazon and Alibaba next year as advertisers focus more on bottom-funnel metrics.

The consumer drive toward ecommerce as a result of the current crisis is no longer a new story – it’s estimated that the pandemic has led to an increase of more than USD $183 billion in consumer spending online this year, with overall sales for the whole year sitting at nearly $3 billion.

But a new report by Warc shows just how much that will translate into ad spend, and where the bulk of that spend will go.

Overall, Warc predicts that brands will spend $59 billion, globally, on ecommerce advertising. The main beneficiaries of this ad spend are the ecommerce sites themselves, including Amazon and Alibaba, although social commerce spending is also growing.

Warc found that overall ecommerce ad spending will outpace broader digital spending trends – for this year, at least – with 30 times faster growth. That is largely due to this year’s scaling back of ad spend predictions: while online media is less affected than offline media by the COVID-induced ad drought, Warc predicts that digital ad spend will come to USD $289.9 billion this year, $36.5 billion less than expected prior to the pandemic.

With fewer ad dollars to go around – and as brands look to intensify bottom-funnel, buy-now strategies – ecommerce has been the beneficiary.

While ecommerce will continue down a path of increased spend in the next year, with close to 25% projected growth in 2021 (as opposed to its 20% growth this year), all other online media is expected to return to growth next year as well. Nevertheless, media in general is expected to increase by a single-digit percentage in 2021, as is digital overall, so ecommerce’s growth will still outpace media more broadly.

According to Warc’s data, the increase in ecommerce spending will grow at relatively the same rate as ecommerce sales. In 2019, ad spend for ecommerce was confirmed at $50 billion, one quarter of total ecommerce sales. By 2021, ecommerce is estimated to be just under $74 billion, coming in once again at one quarter of forecasted ecommerce sales.

Prior to 2017, Alibaba essentially held a monopoly on ecommerce spend, although Amazon has been increasingly taking a larger piece of the pie. It’s quick to catch up, and is growing faster than the more established Alibaba. This year, Alibaba stands to make $23.5 billion from selling ads, representing a year-over-year rise of 6.6%. Amazon, for its part, will make slightly less ($18.1 billion), but that represents a 35.5% in growth. Other emerging platforms include Rakuten and Pinduoduo, but their share remains in the single-digits.


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