Millennials drive DTC cross-border e-commerce growth as pandemic prompts 52% to buy online directly from international brands

Reduced access to stores boosts cross-border e-commerce, with 46% of global shoppers buying directly from international brands online, rising to 52% among 25–34-year-olds

Fashion remains the most popular cross-border online shopping category, while luxury saw the highest growth over the past six months

Excluding apparel, Millennials and Gen Zers made three times as many cross-border purchases as Baby Boomers

DUBLIN--()--Millennials have driven the rise in international direct-to-consumer (DTC) e-commerce purchases in the last six months, with reduced access to stores during the pandemic prompting over half (52%) of 25–34-year-olds to buy online directly from international brands, the latest data from eShopWorld (ESW) reveals.

ESW’s Global Voices: Pre-Peak Pulse 2021 survey of almost 15,000 consumers across 14 countries showed that 52% of shoppers overall were motivated to buy online during the pandemic. That average rose to 58% among 25–44-year-olds, as shuttered stores and reduced access to physical shops prompted consumers to purchase items online that they normally would have validated and bought in-store. This was most keenly felt in South Africa and India (both 63%), followed by the UAE (56%), China (53%) and the US (52%).

Reduced access to stores also boosted cross-border e-commerce, with almost half (46%) of global shoppers surveyed saying it prompted them to buy directly from an international brand online, rising to 52% among those ages 25–34. Consumers in India and China (both 61%), Mexico (59%) and Russia (50%) were the most likely to have purchased directly from an international brand online in the first half of 2021.

As a result, traditionally ‘high contact’ items that consumers would have previously validated in-store – either by trying on or testing them – proved the most popular type of cross-border purchases over the past six months. A quarter (25%) of global shoppers bought clothing online outside their domestic market over the period, while footwear (19%), luxury goods (18%), skincare (17%), health and beauty (17%), fragrance (16%) and cosmetics (16%) rounded out the list of the most popular international e-commerce purchases. Once again, Millennial and Gen Z shoppers led the way, making cross-border purchases at three times the rate at of Baby Boomers (those ages 57–75).

The significant uptick in cross-border commerce throughout 2020 has continued in 2021, although year-over-year growth has been more muted. Of the top five most popular cross-border e-commerce categories, luxury grew the fastest over the past six months, rising 6% compared to the end of 2020, followed by skincare and fragrance (both up 4% over the period).

This increase in cross-border luxury purchases, driven mostly by younger shoppers, may have been fueled by new international buying behaviors caused by the pandemic, ESW’s data shows.

Some 56% of global shoppers admitted to spending more online as a coping mechanism, either treating themselves to ‘pick-me-ups’ to reward themselves for getting through lockdowns or to alleviate the emotional stress of the pandemic. Meanwhile, over a quarter (28%) said they’d bought more online ‘gifts’ or ‘treats’ for friends and family during the pandemic to make up for not being able to see them in person.

While 57% of the global shoppers surveyed said the pandemic had opened their eyes to the convenience and choice on offer online – increasing to 63% among Millennials – 71% said that, post-pandemic, they would continue to purchase via a mix of digital and physical channels. This highlights the importance of omnichannel capabilities in retailers’ international commerce strategies as many countries begin to ease COVID-19 restrictions.

Patrick Bousquet-Chavanne, President and CEO, Americas, ESW, commented: “Brands that understand the evolution of traditional retailing see the importance of blending their direct international e-commerce trading with their existing omnichannel structure. Stores of the future will be experiential meccas, where brands will espouse and reinforce the brand personas and experiences they are building on social media. But the transactional engine for future growth has undoubtedly accelerated into digital channels, and it seems unlikely that trend will ever reverse.”

Martim Avillez Oliveira, Chief Commercial Officer, EMEA and APAC, ESW, added: “To succeed retailers must double down on their efforts to create a holistic, deep level of understanding of international markets – across all their sales channels and customer touchpoints – so they can offer localized, customer-centric and cost-competitive shopping experiences. Only then can they truly open up the cross-border commerce opportunity by both maintaining the loyalty of existing customers and attracting new ones.”

Brands partnering with ESW can enter new international markets in as little as six weeks, up to six times faster than if they attempted to do so on their own – all while engaging directly with customers and retaining ownership of all the data collected during the shopping process.


ESW’s latest consumer survey was fielded from 14,697 consumers in 14 countries (UK, France, Germany, US, Canada, Mexico, South Africa, UAE, India, Russia, China, South Korea, Japan and Australia), who were surveyed online in July 2021.

About ESW

ESW is the cross-border e-commerce leader, empowering the world’s best-loved brands and retailers to make global shopping better, safer, simpler and faster, end-to-end. From compliance, data security, fraud protection, taxes, and tariffs to checkout, delivery, returns, customer service, and demand generation, our powerful combination of technology and human ingenuity covers the entire shopper journey across 200 markets. ESW is an Asendia Group company, a joint venture between La Poste and Swiss Post.


Berns Communications Group
Danielle Poggi/Michael McMullan /

Release Summary

Millennials have driven the rise in international direct-to-consumer (DTC) e-commerce purchases in the last six months.


Berns Communications Group
Danielle Poggi/Michael McMullan /