January 9, 2012, 5:41 PM

Seasonal fizz crowns French e-retail boom

20 million French consumers buy presents online in holiday ‘cyber-rush.’

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Christmas has been a critical litmus period for French ‘e-commerçants' (online sellers), with French e-commerce federation Fevad estimating November-December sales hit a record of 7.4 billion euros (US$9.4 billion). For the year, online retail sales in France reached 37 billion euros, up 19% from 31 billion euros in 2010.

Fevad attributes the success to the growth in the number of consumers shopping online. That number increased to 20 million during the holiday shopping season in 2011, up from 15 million in 2010, Fevad says. Over the course of the year 30 million shoppers—nearly half the French population of 65 million—made purchases on the web. Internet audience measurement service Médiamétrie says the number of online shoppers in France is growing at twice the rate of overall internet users, due to the practicality, speed, selection and lower prices offered by retail web sites.

Shopping search engine, Kelkoo France, points to Dec. 5 as the all-time record internet shopping day in France, with 2.28 million transactions, or 1583 a minute.

Kelkoo estimates the French spent 22% of their Christmas budgets online. “Online spending continues to grow at an accelerated pace, playing a leading role in the overall growth," says Nicolas Jornet, manager of Kelkoo France, a comparison shopping engine.

The onset of mobile sales is also driving growth, toting up 7% of total online Christmas sales.

Clothing web sites such as La Redoute and 3 Suisses spearheaded burgeoning online sales in 2011, Kelkoo says, with the biggest Christmas outlays going to fashion, electronic gadgets and cosmetics.  La Redoute is part of PPR SA, No. 5 in the Internet Retailer Top 300 Europe, and 3Suisses is No. 7.

Fevad general manger Marc Lolivier notes a “cyber-rush” of record-breaking online orders in the week before Christmas. Several large web sites “hovered around 100,000 orders day”, says Lolivier. He did not single out any names.

Leading online retailers in high-tech, electronics and games—Amazon, Fnac, Darty, Rue du Commerce and Pixmania—did a roaring trade in the season’s most sought-after products, smartphone’s, tablets and games. Amazon.com Inc. is No. 1 in the Internet Retailer Top 300 Europe; Fnac, like La Redoute, is part of PPR, No. 5; Darty is No. 28; Rue du Commerce, No. 30; and Pixmania is part of Dixons Stores Group, No. 10.

The French e-commerce market—the third-largest in Europe according to Fevad, after the U.K. and Germany—is brimming with potential. Growth of 24% in 2011, says Kelkoo, was the second strongest in Europe after Poland.

And French online retailers have high hopes for 2012. In a survey of 100 e-commerce directors in France 60 predicted their online sales would grow 11-25% this year and another 29 projected growth of 26-50%.  The survey was conducted by market research firm Coleman Parkes for e-commerce technology provider eCommera.


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