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Advanced ecommerce markets such as the UK and Germany are often in the spotlight. But how is digital commerce developing in less mature European markets? The "European B2C E-commerce Report 2015," commissioned by Ecommerce Europe and carried out in cooperation with GfK, is one of the few surveys to assess online buying activity for the whole of the region, including Central and Eastern Europe.
According to the report, the value of goods and services bought digitally across Europe has been rising at about 15% annually for four years, and gains will continue at a similar pace, at least in the short term. In 2015, digital sales are expected to reach €477 billion ($633 billion); additional forecasts estimate turnover in 2016 and 2017 at €540 billion ($717 billion) and €609 billion ($808 billion), respectively.
The UK, Germany and France are Europe's three largest ecommerce markets. In 2014, they jointly accounted for just over 60% of all digital turnover in the region. The UK alone claimed 30.0% of digital sales, the report found. But these shares are shrinking slightly as online shopping and buying gain momentum in other nations. Russia—the fastest-growing European market in 2014, with annual ecommerce turnover up 25.4% year-on-year—claimed 4.4% of the total, equivalent to nearly €19 billion ($25.2 billion), according to Ecommerce Europe. Spain ranked fifth by this measure, with 4.0% of regional sales.
Many consumers in Central, Eastern and Southern Europe have been slow to buy online because few of their national retailers and service providers offered a user-friendly digital purchasing option. In every country, more sellers are now catering for digital buyers.
Yet savvy shoppers often look beyond their own borders to buy items they can't find in their home countries, or to get a better price for familiar purchases. This is especially likely within the EU. Ecommerce Europe found that 15% of individuals in the 28 member countries had bought goods or services from sellers elsewhere in the EU during 2014—25% more than in 2013.
Looking at retail sales alone, it's clear that Europe's digital transformation is just beginning. eMarketer estimates that digital platforms will account for just 7.3% of overall retail sales value in Western Europe this year—and in Central and Eastern Europe, that slice will be even smaller, at 2.8%.
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