European e-commerce grew to €757 billion last year, a 10% increase on 2019 (€690 billion), according to a new report published by Ecommerce Europe and EuroCommerce.
The 2021 European E-commerce Report attributed this growth to the fact that 2020 was an exceptional year, marked by the COVID-19 pandemic and the consequent important role of e-commerce for society and the economy.
Impact Of COVID-19 Pandemic
The COVID-19 pandemic gave a significant boost to e-commerce sales, but the sharp decline of online sales in the tourism and services sector, such as events, tickets, etc., contributed to holding back overall growth, the report said.
The pandemic had a massive impact on development in the retail sector, with the lockdown accelerating the prevailing trend towards digital and green transition of stores.
Investments in digital and omnichannel, which were originally planned over several years, were carried out in just a few months. E-commerce emerged as a lifeline for consumers, as government restrictions such as shop closures prevented in-store shopping.
Luca Cassetti, secretary-general of Ecommerce Europe, commented, "The past year has exposed the importance of digital transformation. E-commerce has proven to be exceptionally well placed to facilitate the digitalisation of retail and create a seamless shopping experience for consumers."
The transformation measures include the opening of online sales channels by physical stores, merchants adopting omnichannel commerce solutions, and SMEs accessing new markets through e-commerce.
"However, the transition is not yet complete. Policymakers need to recognise the potential of digital commerce and invest more in new technologies and digital skills while creating a harmonised, channel-neutral and future-proof legislative framework," Cassetti stated.
While e-commerce has not fully compensated for the losses that many brick-and-mortar SMEs experienced, it has absorbed a large part of the economic shock.
However, further work is needed to ensure the broader retail sector can optimally benefit from solutions offered by digital transformation, the report noted.
'Significant Transformation Process'
Christian Verschueren, director-general of EuroCommerce, commented, "The retail and wholesale sector is going through a significant transformation process. Government restrictions and rising consumer demand accelerated digitalisation. Consumers who were hitherto unfamiliar with buying online or on their mobile devices have become accustomed to it, and are likely to continue to use this and a mixture of channels."
Verschueren added that 70% of retailers and wholesalers had no facilities for online sales before the pandemic, and physical stores with an online presence overcame the challenges better.
He called on governments and EU policymakers to support the sector's digital transformation, address unjustified manufacturer restrictions on selling on online platforms, and create a regulatory framework that provides a channel-neutral and future-proof policy environment.
A United Nations study has revealed that online and e-commerce sales accounted for nearly a fifth of total retail turnover last year, as lockdowns to combat the spread of the coronavirus pandemic fuelled a boom in e-commerce,