Fast but unequal development of e-commerce in Europe

The number of EU consumers buying goods and services online doubled in five years. However, Eastern Europeans remain much less likely to buy online, according to a recent study.

Internet access among EU households, which is key to online shopping, has almost doubled over the past five years, reaching 70% in 2010, according to the latest Eurostat data. Access was highest in the Netherlands with 91%, while only 33% of Bulgarian households had an internet connection.

Focus remains on domestic market

Despite the increase in online shopping, most consumers still focus on their home market with an average of only 23% making purchases from a seller based in another EU country. However, this figures hides big differences, with more than 90% of Maltese shoppers buying from another member state, while at the other end of the scale less than 10% of Polish shoppers buy abroad.

Consumers mainly buy clothes and travel related goods and services online. Computers and electronic goods are the least likely to be bought online.

Are there many online sellers?

The increase in buyers has not been matched by an increase in sellers, with only around 14% of EU companies selling goods or services over the internet, little changed since 2005. However, again there is a gap between eight countries, including Ireland, Denmark, Belgium, the Netherlands and the Czech Republic where more than 20% of companies sell via the internet and 11, including Bulgaria, Greece, Italy and Slovakia, where less than 10% of enterprises sell online.

Pros and cons

A comprehensive European legal and regulatory framework is in place but may not apply, or may be hard to enforce, in transactions with non-EU vendors, the study concludes.

It underlines some advantages of e-commerce, including low distribution costs and reduced environmental costs but says that the internet has also given consumers easier access to illegal content and made distribution easier for sellers. It suggests improvements to the law to provide consumers with better access to content at a reasonable price could discourage the use and provision of illegal content.

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