February 27, 2012, 12:42 PM

European e-commerce will grow 12% annually through 2016

The fastest growth will be in southern Europe, where e-retail lags, Forrester says.

Lead Photo

Martin Gill

Online shopping has become commonplace in such countries as the United Kingdom, Germany and France, and will grow rapidly in the next few years in southern European markets, Forrester Research Inc. predicts in a report released today.

The technology-focused research and consulting firm predicts online retail sales in 17 major European markets will increase from 96,706 million euros (US$129.6 billion) in 2011 to 171,957 million euros (US$230.4 billion) by 2016, a compound annual growth rate of 12.2%.

By 2016, online sales will account for more than 14% of total retail sales in the United Kingdom and more than 10% in Germany, the two leading European markets in online sales, Forrester analyst Martin Gill projects in his report, “European Online Retail Forecast: 2011 to 2016.”

While e-retail sales will grow at 11% per year in the U.K. and 12% in Germany through 2016, Forrester predicts even faster growth in countries where consumers have been slower to embrace online shopping. For instance, the report projects a 19% annual growth rate for e-commerce in Spain and 18% for Italy.

While Forrester’s surveys show the main reasons consumers shop online are to save time (cited by 69% of European respondents in a survey in the third quarter of 2011) and to find the best deals (68%), such factors as better selection and a desire to stay up to date are increasingly pushing shoppers to the web. For example, 42% of Europeans responding to Forrester’s 2011 survey said they shop online because they can’t find the products they want in stores, up from 37% in a 2009 survey; and 31% in 2011 said they browse shopping web sites to keep up with current trends, an increase from 26% two years earlier.

Gill also points out how the lines are blurring between physical and web stores, with 43% of European web users going online before they buy in any channel and nearly a quarter using the knowledge they gain offline to inform their web shopping, such as examining or trying on products in stores before buying them online. “Shopping journeys are becoming more complex to understand, and this complexity will only increase as shoppers begin to use their smartphones to access the web while they are shopping offline, extending the immediate reach of online-only retailers onto the high street,” Gill writes in the report.

While predicting online retail will grow faster than total retail sales during the next few years, Gill predicts e-commerce will fall short of the European Union’s stated goal of doubling online sales by 2015. He says recent measures by the European Commission, the EU’s executive body, to bolster consumer confidence in online shopping and improve privacy protection will be implemented at different rates by various European nations and create some confusion, hampering e-commerce growth. “European online retail lacks a single, strong voice to lobby the EC, meaning that legislative changes are at a continued risk of being uninformed and out of touch with the reality of eBusiness.”

Central to the growth of e-commerce in Europe, Forrester says, is the steady increase in the percentage of European consumers buying on the web. Here are the percentages of consumers buying online in 2011 and 2016 for seven major European markets, according to Forrester Research:

• France: 63%, 76%

• Germany: 69%, 81%

• Italy: 36%, 47%

• Netherlands: 75%, 85%

• Spain: 41%, 58%

• Sweden: 72%, 86%

• U.K.: 75%, 85%

More information on e-commerce in Europe is available in Internet Retailer’s Top 300 Europe Guide, which ranks the 300 largest retailers in Europe by online sales.

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