Brussels, 5 March 2009
Consumers: Online shopping increasingly
popular in the EU, but development "held back" by barriers to cross border trade
A new report on "Barriers to E-commerce", presented
today by EU Consumer Commissioner Meglena Kuneva shows that online shopping is
increasingly popular in the EU, but warns that barriers to cross border trade
are holding back its development. The report published today presents a detailed
analysis of current trends in e-commerce across the EU – including per
country, most purchased items and obstacles for consumers and business online.
Between 2006 and 2008 the proportion of EU consumers buying at least one item
over the internet increased from 27% to 33%. These average figures mask the huge
popularity of online shopping in countries like UK, France and Germany where
more than 50% of internet users have made online purchases in the last year. In
the Nordic countries (Denmark, Sweden, Norway, Finland and Iceland) the
proportion of internet users who bought products and services online was 91% in
2008. Countries like Italy and Spain are also fast growing markets. Against this
pattern of fast growing national markets, the extent of online purchasing cross
border remains small, at only 7% in 2008 (compared to 6% in 2006). The report
warns that numerous obstacles - linguistic, practical and regulatory as well as
important trust issues – are holding back the development of online
shopping in the EU.
Commissioner Kuneva said "Consumers have everything to gain from the
Internet. It expands the size of the market they operate in and gives them
access to more providers and more choice. It makes it possible to compare
products, suppliers and prices on an unprecedented scale. Internet use for
retail shopping is destined to become pervasive. Already 150 million consumers
shop online, although only 30 million shop online cross border. We must see to
it that adoption of the internet platform will not be unnecessarily slowed down
by a failure to remove important regulatory barriers or to address important
trust issues for consumers."
The main findings:
1. E-commerce is doing well
Consumers are generally satisfied with online shopping. For particularly
frequently bought groups of products such as IT product as well as entertainment
and leisure goods, consumer satisfaction with internet shopping is on average
higher than for retailing in general.
- Consumes are particularly satisfied when it comes to comparing prices, the
wider range of offers, the affordability of products and the choice of
- Consumers are less enthusiastic about issues such as clear product
information, advertising, the protection of privacy, issues of trust and the
possibility of returning goods.
2. There is a strong potential
for cross border trade in online commerce
- One third of EU citizens would consider buying a product or a service from
another Member State via the internet because it is cheaper or better.
- One third of EU consumers say they are willing to purchase goods and
services in another language. In a multicultural Europe, there is a demand for
more choice and a wider variety of offers than local stores or global brands can
3. The potential of cross border trade is failing to
From 2006 to 2008, the share of online shoppers in the EU has increased from
27% to 33% of consumers while cross-border e-commerce remained stable. Only 7%
of consumers currently buy cross-border online. And the gap is widening not
The main barriers:
- Geographical segmentation: Most traders now have a website that is
visible to consumers everywhere. And yet most retailers still seem to operate on
the assumption that the internal market is partitioned along national lines. The
range of possibilities is enormous, yet in practice, consumers end up being
refused sales or redirected back to their country of origin.
Practical and regulatory obstacles, include
- Language barriers, these remain an issue for most traders and
consumers, although we should be careful not to overstate their importance. For
example, 60% of retailers are already prepared to carry out transactions in more
than one language.
- Problems in terms of the logistics relating to the inter-operability of
postal and payment systems, and access issues such as broadband penetration
- There are regulatory barriers that appear increasingly unjustified to
consumers and business; these include for example consumer law, VAT rules,
selective distribution law, intellectual property protection, the national
transposition of EU legislation on waste disposal for example.
- Barriers undermining consumer confidence – in particular
reluctance linked to issues of payments, delivery, complaints, application of
guarantees, requests for refunds (after sales support), as well as privacy
issues. Difficulties are perceived to be aggravated in cross border
The next steps:
In September 2009, Commissioner Kuneva will present the results of
independent "mystery shopping" to identify how and where consumers are being
prevented from shopping online across the EU. As part of the Commission's
monitoring of the retail sector, Commissioner Kuneva launched last Autumn a
Commission wide process to screen for barriers to e-commerce, the Commission's
final report on the retail sector is due in Autumn 2009.