Retailers seek online growth in Europe

18 January 2012

BRUSSELS: A majority of European retailers are keen to exploit the opportunities afforded by cross-border ecommerce, but substantial obstacles exist to fulfilling this goal, a study has revealed.

Accenture, the consultancy, and the European Retail Round Table, the industry group, polled 146 retailers from Denmark, France, Germany, Italy, Poland, Spain and the UK, all of which boasted annual sales of €100m or more.

Overall, 68% of represented companies regarded cross-border ecommerce as a key source of future growth, and 25% believed they could boost revenues by at least a quarter through acting more effectively in this area.

Janet Hoffman, managing director of Accenture's retail practice, said: "We are starting to see retailers shifting from a defensive position, focused on protecting their market share and capitalising on their domestic market multi-channel opportunity, to a more offensive position aimed at tackling the cross-border challenge in Europe."

However, most respondents also raised concerns about their ability to adequately meet the complex regulations observed in different markets.

For example, 47% of chains mentioned diverse laws relating to returning products and 44% referenced the problem of handling this process from overseas.

Another 42% said the cost of complying with rules on fiscal management, distance selling and data transfer in each nation proved prohibitive, the same score as dealing with varied labour laws.

The gaps between VAT levels in European markets were also considered as problematic by 34% of firms, reaching 38% when discussing packaging and labelling requirements.

Such obstructions are essentially hampering growth, the study suggested. In the first instance, it quoted figures from the European Commission showing 40% of EU consumers now shop online.

The Accenture/ERRT survey also found 76% of retailers took the view that multichannel consumers spent greater amounts than their single-channel counterparts.

Indeed, a 32% share of contributors reported that customers who buy their products in two or more ways - say, in bricks and mortar stores and on the web - had a value at least 26% higher than those choosing just one such option.

Dick Boer, president of the ERRT and CEO of Ahold, said: "Many of the regulatory obstacles cited in the study do not specifically relate to the digital nature of e-commerce. They are rather national regulations that affect all retailers, both traditional shops and online shops."

Data sourced from Accenture; additional content by Warc staff