Cross-border sales are on the rise in Western Europe, though the trend is gradual, according to a new eMarketer report, “Western Europe B2C Ecommerce Trends: Omnichannel Is the Watchword as Markets Gain Sophistication.” European Multi-channel and Online Trade Association estimated that nondomestic business-to-consumer ecommerce sales in Europe would amount to €56 billion ($74.67 billion) in 2014—or 14% of all ecommerce sales. By 2018, it expected cross-border activity to more than double in value and account for 20% of the region’s total ecommerce sales.
Buying from foreign retailers is especially popular in countries where the range of homegrown offerings may not meet the product and service needs of web users or when prices on foreign sites are more attractive. PostNord found that a majority of digital buyers ages 15 to 79 in all EU-5 countries had made a cross-border retail purchase in 2013; these items excluded services such as downloads, tickets, hotels and travel.
The highest proportions of cross-border buyers were in Italy and Spain, where the economic downturn has kept many retailers short of resources to invest in up-to-date technology, design improvements and product ranges for their own online stores.
But cross-border buying is increasingly popular even among consumers whose national markets offer a lot of choice. yStats reported that, notwithstanding the relative ease of cross-border transactions within the eurozone, the UK—which still uses the pound—was the most popular choice for cross-border online shopping among European residents in 2013, followed by Germany and France.
In Italy, as in Spain, the value of merchants’ cross-border sales was nowhere near the level registered in the UK, Germany or France last year. One-quarter of online retailers in Italy sold abroad, according to Casaleggio Associati. Collectively, their top four external markets were (in order) France, Germany, the UK and the US. But buying patterns in Italy highlighted an imbalance of supply and demand. While fashion, food and tourism were Italy’s leading ecommerce exports in 2013, the top cross-border category for digital buyers in Italy was discount air tickets.
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