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By Rick Davis

Local knowledge of remote markets can make or break your expansion plans. Read DHL's guide to understanding the differences between European e-commerce habits.

You are on a business trip in Europe - you've arrived safely, checked into your hotel and had a comfortable night's sleep before that meeting you've prepared so carefully for. Time for a good breakfast to start the day right.  

You head down to the restaurant and you wander around the buffets. And you think, who has cheese for breakfast? Why is there no cream for my coffee? What’s ‘Marmite?’ The international hotel breakfast buffet is a perfect metaphor for Europe’s online shoppers. There may be one European Union, but it contains dozens of countries whose residents have very different expectations when it comes to home and online shopping. When you're looking to grow into new international markets, it's vital to understand the little local differences that will make a big difference to the success of your cross-border commerce and delivery.

What Europeans buy online

Swedes buy a lot of health and beauty products online (32%) and like to shop at H&M1. The Dutch mainly buy their travel and event tickets on the internet and prefer domestic retailers like Bol.com2. French people like to buy their groceries online and often use the ‘click and drive’ option. The Brits are big on fashion and sporting goods from online stores and the Belgians also buy clothing - but electrical items as well. And the Poles like to buy their furniture from e-tailers. The simple message is that what Europeans mainly buy online differs from country to country as they have different shopping habits, so if you're expanding into new international markets, it’ll be a lot easier if those citizens already shop for your product.

Where Europeans buy from

In Poland, Romania, Turkey, Hungary and Sweden there’s a strong preference for buying from national retailers - above 90% fact3. In Germany, local e-commerce platform Otto is a favourite retailer, although online marketplace Amazon accounts for most online sales in the country (as it does practically everywhere in Europe). Unsurprisingly, smaller countries such as Cyprus (83%), Malta (89%), Luxembourg and Iceland tend to shop from abroad more readily4.

Whilst the #1 country of origin for purchases is, unsurprisingly, China, there are clear trends for localized preferences in shopping habits - for example, Austria (70%) buys from Germany, Ireland (59%) buys from the UK, and Belgium (33%) 5 buys from the Netherlands. ‘Good neighbors’ are definitely a thing in e-commerce, so once you have established a foothold in one European country, it’s a smart move to target those markets nearby before stretching further afield. Your risk is being mitigated in terms of customer preference for your product, and establishing a new lane is a simpler process logistically.

Some countries buy more quickly than others

Some countries are more impulsive with their online purchasing than others. The Italians and Spanish make quick purchasing decisions online (less than one hour), whereas the French are much more considered, taking on average 8 hours to decide on a pair of sneakers6. The European average generally is 2 hours and 20 minutes. For the retailer opening up trade lanes in Europe, this hiatus in the shopping basket is an opportunity to email special offers or discounts to your prospective customer in order to seal the deal.

Not all European shoppers want the same delivery method

It’s easy to think that everyone wants the most convenient delivery - but the concept of convenience differs by country. Speed can be a consideration for many, of course - involving the payment of a premium for both the recipient and you - but, in fact, for most Europeans, choosing where their goods will be delivered to and when matters more7. Germans prioritize accurate delivery windows and prefer to choose their logistics provider at checkout8. Doorstep delivery is preferred in the UK and Belgium, with parcel lockers being more important to the Finns and the Danes. In Russia, Iceland and Greece, shoppers prefer to collect their goods from the local Post Office9. Understanding how shoppers view ‘convenience’ of delivery in your prospect country is a first step to ensuring you offer the right delivery methods and logistics options to your customers there.

Europeans pay for goods in different ways

Payment methods are THE most important way to reduce cart abandonment, and are probably where European markets differ most. This is especially true in the Netherlands - 84% of Dutch shoppers use the direct bank transfer system iDEAL10 to pay for their online purchases, vastly preferring this domestically-developed payment system over debit or credit cards. E-commerce payment specialist Payu11 is popular in Poland and Turkey. The Poles (88% of them) also like to have an invoice and use digital wallets or bank transfer to pay for goods - and this method is also popular with around half of German shoppers. The French pay with their bank cards, while Britain and Spain prefer Paypal. In eastern Europe, shoppers prefer to pay Cash on Delivery - and don’t like giving their personal details online (Slovakia, 72%, Romania 69%, Hungary 54%, Slovenia 53%). So, partnering with a logistics provider that can manage cash on delivery in eastern Europe, or provide absolute reliability (along with highly accurate paperwork) in Germany is key to a successful roll out.

This is the area most likely to make or break the success of your local e-commerce solution in a new market - Parcel Connect’s cross-border specialists will be able to advise you on the best payment solutions for each of you chosen market’s site instances.

Just like breakfast, every country in Europe has its own personal tastes and preferences when it comes to e-commerce and the logistics that go with it. Expanding your business internationally requires local knowledge, specific expertise and global capability. 

And that’s why we designed Parcel Connect.

Arrange a callback with an expert to find out about getting to your market in the right way.