European cross-border e-commerce continues to grow

Increased cross-border trade opens up new opportunities in Europe. Direct Link´s Market Information Manager, Olof Källgren, shares some highlights from a new study on European e-commerce.

Direct Link PostNord

E-commerce in Europe is continuing to grow. This becomes very clear in the new report commissioned by PostNord/Direct Link. Europeans make purchases online on a more regular basis, and they also spend a higher average amount than earlier.




The study, based on interviews with 12 000 consumers from 12 different European markets showed that approximately 250 million consumers in the surveyed markets bought products online during the past year. The total spending in these countries is estimated to around 190 billion Euros. Most money is spent in the three largest European e-commerce markets the UK, Germany and France. The UK online consumers has the highest average spending per capita with slightly over 1 100 Euro per year.


One clear trend is that more and more European consumers are buying online from foreign countries. The number of people doing that has increased in all of the studied markets compared to the same study from last year. The possibilities to find lower prices are one of the strongest drivers for purchases from abroad. A lot of the respondents also state that they are looking for specific brands or products that are hard to come by in their own countries.


Although the various markets in the study have many similarities, there are also differences that you have to consider when launching on a new European market. For example, there are many different preferences in the various markets when it comes to delivery options and payment alternatives.


Top selling categories have stayed quite stable over the last years

Clothing and footwear is the most bought product category in all of the studied markets with the exception of Italy – where home electronics are the most popular commodity. Fashion, home electronics and books, including audio books, are the most commonly bought categories in Europe, but also beauty products, hair and skin care, home furnishing and toys are gaining in popularity. Food is also increasing but maybe a bit slower than expected. Food online is most popular in the UK with more than 30% of the residents buying that.


Different preferences for delivery methods

There are clear differences in how consumers want to have their purchases delivered. In six out of nine markets consumers prefer daytime home delivery. In Germany, the Nordics and France however, online shoppers state delivery to their mail boxes as the preferred first choice. In the Nordics and France the consumer’s second choice is to collect the parcels themselves from a service point.


It is also obvious that it´s becoming more important to offer the online customers the option of fast deliveries. Demands for deliveries within 1-2 days are growing in most of the markets. Concerning online shopping outside of Europe, the study shows that China now is taking the lead over The US.


Increasing number of online consumers are returning products

Since European consumers are shopping online to an ever increasing extent, consequently more shoppers are also returning items that they have purchased online. That also means that it is becoming more important than ever to provide your customers with very clear information around the return procedures. The online consumers most inclined to return items are the Germans with 46% having returned an online purchase during the last year. Not surprisingly, the most returned product category is clothing and footwear with Home electronics and children’s items in second and third place.


Localized payments is a key to success

It is important to keep track of the preferred payment options on the different European markets. There are differences between them and this is also something that is dynamic, it changes over time. In most of the markets paying by credit- or debit card is the most valued option but not in all of them. In Germany for instance, only 18% holds as the number one alternative while more than 50% prefers this alternative in France and Belgium. Poland is also standing out here with as much as 22% has Cash On Delivery as their number one alternative. Paypal or similar is also a popular way of paying in many of the studied markets.


E-commerce from abroad is becoming increasingly common

The proportion who shops online from abroad is growing noticeably in all of the markets. The consumers most interested in buying from abroad can be found in The Nordics, The UK and Belgium.


The largest increase compared to last year study was recorded in Poland, by twelve percentage points. Also Belgium and Spain show steady growth. The primary incentive that seems to drive the cross-border shopping is the possibilities to find better prices in foreign markets. But in the study, consumers are also stating that they can find products and special brands not available in their home markets. Concerning online shopping outside of Europe, the study shows that China now is taking the lead over The US.


Six pieces of advice for success in Europe

  1. Laws and rules

Ensure that you understand local regulations about e-commerce, marketing and data management.


  1. Localized web sites

When you translate your web site into new languages, use professional translators who live in the countries where you are going to run your business.


  1. Offer various payment options

European online shoppers want to pay in different ways. Find out what applies in your specific markets and offer a range of options.


  1. Deliveries

Cooperate with a logistic partner who can help you with distribution in as many markets as possible.


  1. Returns

Ensure that you offer your customers a simple and practical way of returning products.


  1. Be local

Set up a customer service department that speaks the local language and can be reached on a local telephone number.


About Direct Link and PostNord

Direct Link creates borderless e-commerce solutions for global delivery. We customize solutions that expand our clients´markets worldwide. As part of PostNord, the leading supplier of communication and logistics solutions in the Nordics, we combine entrepreneurial flexibility with corporate stability.


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