The past 12 months have been marked by the COVID-19 pandemic and the accompanying lockdown measures throughout the EU, resulting in an increase of online shopping. Additionally, certain changes in consumer habits and preferences suggest that the use of e-commerce can be expected to grow further. Such a trend is confirmed by Eurostat’s 2020 Community survey on ICT usage in households and by individuals, which includes a specific section on e-commerce. In the 12 months prior to the 2020 survey, 89% of people aged 16 to 74 in the EU had used the internet, 72% of whom had bought or ordered goods or services for private use. Online shopping increased by 4 percentage points compared with 2019 (68% of internet users) and by 10 percentage points compared with 2015 (62%).

Where is e-commerce most used?

In terms of distribution per Member State, more than 8 in 10 internet users in the Netherlands (91%), Denmark (90%), Germany (87%), Sweden (86%) and Ireland (81%) had bought or ordered goods or services over the internet in the 12 months prior to the survey. On the other hand, fewer than 50% had shopped online in Bulgaria (42%), Romania (45%) and Italy (49%; 2019 data). Over the last five years, the largest increases in online shopping among internet users were recorded in Romania (+27 percentage points, Czechia and Croatia (both +25 percentage points) as well as Hungary (+23 percentage points).

What types of products do people buy?

In the 3 months prior to the survey, the most common online purchases were clothes (incl. sport clothing), shoes or accessories (ordered by 64% of online shoppers). Wearables were followed by films or series as a streaming service or downloads (32%), deliveries from restaurants, fast-food chains and catering services (29%), furniture, home accessories or gardening products (28%), cosmetics, beauty or wellness products (27%), printed books, magazines or newspapers (27%), computers, tablets, mobile phones or their accessories (26%) and music as a streaming service or downloads (26%).

Challenges with the use of e-commerce

Looking at the challenges that people encountered while online shopping, 71% of users did not experience any issues. The problems encountered most often by EU online shoppers were related to slower delivery than had been indicated at the time of making the purchase (17 %). Some 8% had problems in the form of technical failure of a website while ordering or paying, 8% had received wrong or damaged goods or services. Overall, the main reason for not buying online is customers preference to shop in person in order to see the products before purchasing them, out of loyalty to the store or simply out of habit (73%). In terms of cross-border purchases, they remain highest among users aged between 16 and 24 years, with 34% having bought a product from an EU seller and 24% – from a non-EU seller. However, the vast majority of customers have chosen to buy online from national sellers, an overall of 90% from all age groups.

Future predictions

The data presented by Eurostat demonstrated a marked growth of e-commerce during the past year, which is due to both the COVID-19 restrictions but also to changes in user preferences and increased digitalization of businesses. This trend is expected to continue and such an expectation has also been made by the majority of the 19 national e-commerce associations, who filled an Ecommerce Europe Survey on the impact of the pandemic this January. According to Ecommerce Europe’s members, the digitalisation of businesses in Europe will result in continuous growth for the industry, which is becoming increasingly omnichannel. According to the survey, the e-commerce sector expects a definitive growth in product sales in 2021 and a possible growth in the sale of services dependent on the severity of the COVID-19 measures.

You may find more information on e-commerce statistics for individuals here and on Ecommerce Europe’s COVID-19 survey here.

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