The Top 5 Most Popular Categories Purchased Online Are…

December 7, 2018

A majority of online consumers around the world claim to buy entertainment (61%) and service (56%) categories more often online than in-store. And while fewer (38%) say they buy durables such as fashion, IT/mobile and electronics more often online, that still outweighs the share (22%) that buy them more in-store, according to a Nielsen study [download page].

Overall, Fashion emerges as the category with the greatest online purchasing penetration, according to the survey of more than 30,000 online consumers across 64 countries. Some 61% of respondents reported buying in this category online in 2018, just ahead of the 59% who make Travel purchases online.

Rounding out the top 5 categories in terms of e-commerce penetration are Books & Music (49%), IT & Mobile (47%) and Event Tickets (45%).

Different Regions Favor Different Categories

Fashion isn’t the top category in every region around the world, though. In fact, it only leads the way in Eastern Europe (53%) and in Africa and the Middle East (38%).

Instead, Travel leads the way as the top purchase category in other regions, with a particularly high penetration rate in Asia-Pacific (70% purchasing) and Western Europe (62%). In North America, Travel (55%) is tied with Books & Music (55%) as the most purchased category, just ahead of Fashion (54%). (Previous data from comScore has found Apparel & Accessories to be the most heavily purchased retail product category online, though.)

E-commerce penetration is expanding across regions and categories. Some notable increases are apparent for:

  • Fresh Grocery online purchases in Asia-Pacific (+5 percentage points to 40%);
  • Travel purchases in Eastern Europe (+4pp to 44%);
  • Video Gaming purchases in North America (+3pp to 34%); and
  • Personal Care purchases in Latin America (+4pp to 32%).

Nielsen’s survey also reveals modest increases in online consumable category purchasing, led by restaurant/meal kit delivery (33%, up from 31% last year), packaged grocery food (30%, up from 27%) and medicine/healthcare (27%, up from 25%).

Overall, Nielsen estimates that e-commerce accounts for 6-7% of FMCG sales across 34 global markets, with China (18%) by far the leader in that regard. Curiously, Nielsen pegs e-commerce’s share of FMCG sales in the US at 5.6%, lower than a previous figure of 8% reported last year.

Nonetheless, as the report outlines, the growth opportunities are there for FMCG e-commerce, which has fueled almost 90% of the recent growth in the US market. This latest study indicates that about 1 in 4 global online shoppers (26%) purchased FMCG products in the past year, a slight increase from 2017. Moreover, an additional 3 in 10 aren’t currently buying groceries online but are willing to consider doing so in the future.


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