March 7, 2013, 3:06 PM

Brits are best at selling online in other European countries

But cross-border sales will only account for 10.6% of Europe’s web sales in 2013.

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Many European consumers are hesitant to shop online from retailers outside their home countries—even if the retailers are within the European Union, which seeks to create a single market.

While 43% of adults in the European Union shop online, according to a July European Commission report, a new report released today estimates 2013 online sales across borders in Europe will account for just 10.6% of total online sales in the region. That report, from U.K. e-retail association Interactive Media in Retail Group, estimates 2012 online cross-border sales in Europe totaled $34 billion and predicts that this year they will grow 38% to reach $47 billion.

Britain is leading the way in cross-border sales, IMRG says. Last year, Europeans outside the U.K. spent $11 billion on U.K. e-commerce sites and IMRG forecasts that amount will rise to $15 billion this year—a 36% increase.

“As the domestic market has started to show signs of maturing, cross-border markets have become very attractive to U.K. retailers offering multiple opportunities for sustained growth as these markets develop and consumers increasingly turn to the options available to them online,” IMRG says.

Andrew McClelland, chief operations and policy officer at IMRG, says a key to European retailers successfully selling overseas is to tailor product selection and sites for different countries and cultures.

“Expanding internationally is a complex business and retailers need to carefully identify markets that are appropriate to them rather than just attractive in terms of value and growth,” McClelland says. “Research is everything when it comes to cross-border. There have been several instances of retail brands finding success by selling product ranges that are not well-known by consumers in the U.K.” 

The European Commission agrees. Citizens of small countries are more likely to shop across borders if retailers market to them in their own or a similar language, the Commission said in its July report. “National e-commerce strongly underpins cross-border e-commerce, with virtually nobody shopping across the border without shopping in his or her own country first,” the report says.

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