June 27, 2012, 10:02 AM

Online sales of home and personal goods have room for growth in Europe

Those categories represent less than 20% of online sales, a study finds.

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Personal items—including clothing, shoes, and hygiene and beauty products—and home goods—including furniture and decor—could present sales opportunities for online retailers in Europe, according to France’s national e-commerce and distance selling federation Fevad.

Less than 30% of Europe’s online consumers research purchases in those product categories online, while spending on these items represents less than 20% of total online spending in Europe, Fevad reports reports. “There is a significant room for improvement for online sales for these products in Europe,” Fevad says in a statement.

The Fevad report is based in large part on a survey of 100,000 consumers in 15 countries by consulting firm McKinsey & Co. The McKinsey iConsumer survey was conducted late last year and included such European countries as France, Germany, the United Kingdom, Russia, Poland, Italy, Spain and the Netherlands.

While often relying on stores for apparel and home furnishings, European consumers often research online media and entertainment products, Fevad says. 47% of U.K. consumers and 42% of French shoppers research purchases of computers. 52% and 27%, respectively, do so for DVDs and videos, and 46% and 32%, respectively, for high-tech items. “At a time when purchasing in Europe has slowed— online shopping is emerging as a major source of growth for retailers,” says Nicolo Galante, senior partner of McKinsey.

The study identifies several major trends in online shopping behavior in Europe.

Motivations for buying online vary among by product categories. For example, the study finds that price and availability are top priorities for consumers purchasing media and entertainment, including books, DVDs, computers and high-tech items, whereas for household and personal goods consumers care most about the online shopping experience, customer service and selection. When it comes to cleaning products and food, the consumer wants convenience and time savings.

Increasing use of mobile devices is also impacting online sales in Europe:  50% of Europe’s Internet users search online for information before buying, and mobile phone-based research ahead of online purchases increased 75% between 2010 and 2011, from 12% of respondents to 21%. Most consumers conduct research on their smartphones at home (73% of respondents in Europe), while 42% of consumers do research at the point of sale in the store on their mobile phones or tablets. 34% of respondents say they use smartphones and tablets applications to compare prices, and the research has a direct impact on purchasing behavior: 65% of these shoppers, or 22% of all those surveyed, postpone their purchases or change stores based on mobile research. 

About half of Europe’s online consumers say they only or mostly look at web shops of the bricks-and-mortar stores they frequent, while the other 50% are more open to web-only players Fevad. Top reasons for consumers continuing to buy in stores are the ability to try, feel and/or smell the product, to check quality and the pleasure of visiting the store.

In France and the United Kingdom, offline and online shopping are playing an increasingly complementary role: 67% of Britain’s online shoppers and 55% in France check product availability in stores online; and 50% and 33% in each case buy online to collect in store. Additionally, 30% of French consumers say they like the convenience of online food deliveries says the Fevad, while 40% say they like the freedom of picking up orders in stores.

The online shopper is increasingly social: Social networks are an important source of pre-purchase information, the study says. About 30% of U.K. consumers surveyed say they trust recommendations from friends on social networks, compared to 25% in France. While 34% of U.K. consumers say they follow their favorite retailers on Facebook, only 14% do so in France.  

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