March 6, 2012, 9:51 AM

A growing union of European e-commerce

European web sales increase 19%, according to Internet Retailer's Top 400 Europe.

Mark Brohan

Research Director

Lead Photo

Europe’s economic crisis in 2011 took its toll on retail sales, which registered no growth for the year, finishing at an estimated 2.59 trillion euros ($3.35 trillion), says the Centre for Retail Research, a retailing and e-commerce research firm headquartered in the United Kingdom. But online retail was a bright spot amid the gloom, according to research contained in Internet Retailer’s newly published Top 400 Europe.

In 2011, business-to-consumer e-commerce grew 18.2% to an estimated 200.5 billion euros ($259.5 billion) from an estimated 169.6 billion euros ($219.5 billion) in 2010, says the Centre for Retail Research. Strong growth online is also reflected in the results of the web merchants ranked in Internet Retailer’s newly published Top 400 Europe. Those 400 online retailers collectively grew their sales year over year about 18.5% to 80.7 billion euros ($104.4 billion) from 68.1 billion euros ($88.1 billion).

“Online retail sales were robust in the United Kingdom and elsewhere in 2011 because the Internet was the channel that more consumers preferred to shop,” says Andrew McClelland, chief operations and policy officer for Interactive Media in Retail Group, a U.K. web retailing industry association. “In tougher economic times, more value-conscious shoppers took to the Internet to see who had the best selection at the lowest price and then completed the purchase online rather than make an unnecessary trip to store.”

This year’s Europe Top 400 reveals that the larger online merchants are growing the fastest, making European e-commerce ever more concentrated in terms of sales.

The top 100 grew about 19% to 69.5 billion euros ($90 billion) in 2011 from 58.4 billion euros ($75.5 billion) in 2010. In comparison, retailers ranked 101-200 increased their collective sales 14.1% to 7.3 billion euros ($9.5 billion) in 2011 from 6.4 billion euros ($8.3 billion) in 2010, while retailers ranked 201 to 300 grew 11.5% to 2.9 billion euros ($3.76 billion) in 2011 from 2.6 billion euros ($3.37 billion). The merchants ranked from 301 to 400 increased their combined sales year over year 15.7% to 921.5 million euros ($1.193 billion) in 2011 from 796.5 million euros ($1.032 billion).

Sales are consequently concentrated among the top e-retailers. In 2011 the top 100 merchants accounted for 86.1% of sales among all Europe Top 400 merchants, up from 85.7% in the year prior. And some of the strongest growth came from the 10 biggest brands—Amazon.com (based in the U.S.), Otto Group (Germany), Tesco Stores (United Kingdom), Staples Inc. (U.S.), PPR SA (France), Home Retail Group (United Kingdom), Shop Direct Group (United Kingdom), Apple Inc. (U.S.), CDiscount.com (France) and 3 Suisses (France). Those 10 retailers combined for online sales that grew 22.7% to 35.7 billion euros ($46.2 billion) in 2011 from 29.1 billion euros ($37.7 billion) in 2010. Growing faster than e-retail as a whole, the 10 largest merchants accounted for about 44.3% of all Europe Top 400 sales in 2011, up from 42.8% in the prior year.

For the first time the Top 400 Europe is available in three forms: print, digital and as part of the all-new and completely updated Top500Guide.com. Information on how to order the Top 400 Europe is available here.

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