E-Commerce Without Borders Not Yet a Reality in Europe

By January 31, 2012
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A large proportion of world e-commerce is concentrated in Europe. While there may well be some good times ahead, growth prospects are nevertheless likely to encounter some specific obstacles - national boundaries for one thing.


With an 18.6% average annual growth rate of between 2008 and 2011, European e-commerce is growing faster than in the United States, which has seen average yearly growth of just 10.3%. And the gap is not negligeable according to a report published recently by ACSEL, an association representing the online economy, which estimates that e-commerce is worth €200.5 billion in Europe – over a third of worldwide e-commerce – versus €153.2 billion in the US. The study points to the progress made in Europe since 2008 in technology, infrastructure, equipment such as smartphones, plus use of social networks, as the bedrock of this commercial success. However, the report, entitled L’e-commerce transfrontière, l’Europe numérique au cœur des échanges(“Cross-Border E-Commerce, Europe at the Heart of Trading”), points out that the major Europe-wide e-commerce players are….American.

Europeans remain nationally-oriented

In fact only 7% of European e-retailers sell their wares in another European Union country. ACSEL President Pierre Alzon explains that the paradox of European success without a European leader is due to the fact that “Europe has a wealth of national e-commerce champions.” Just as the various regions of the EU differ widely from each other, European e-commerce players differ greatly in size and in the sector they work in.  Nevertheless, reckons ACSEL, e-retailers are playing an important role in building the European Union as they are helping to create a single market and opening up growth opportunities. The association argues that the trading they spearhead is helping to found a common business culture and foster the emergence of world-class players that will enable the Old Continent to get ahead.

Fostering the birth of cross-border e-retailers

The ACSEL report sets out a number of proposals on possible ways to develop e-commerce in Europe. ACSEL points to the barrier that the cost of entering the Single Market poses for small and medium-sized firms and argues that such barriers need to be eased by setting up trans-European platforms to foster cost-sharing and speed up the creation of market leaders on a European scale. Other issues include specific cultural features that affect marketing, some local legal peculiarities, and the need to set up appropriate payment systems, fight fraud and so generally increase confidence in online transactions. All these areas need to be tackled if Europe-wide e-commerce is to make headway. Aside from the current economic climate, the fears over the single currency, the fact that Europe is lagging behind in online bandwidth, plus the difficulties businesses are having to obtain financing, the national differences still prevalent on the European continent need attention, underlines ACSEL. 

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