Online retailing has been performing strongly in recent years across Europe. Most countries continue to experience double-digit growth as broadband penetration rises and an increasing number of consumers embrace online shopping. The current COVID 19-linked boost in online demand, resulting in an expected 23.4% increase in ecommerce sales across the major European countries in 2020, is creating further opportunities to engage with customers through social media and tools like loyalty schemes and delivery passes. We have also seen retailers collaborate across sectors, allowing new and smaller players to establish and strengthen their online presence.

Unlike most other sectors, online retailing is experiencing a positive effect from the COVID-19 pandemic, with online sales soaring, new consumers being encouraged to shop online for the first time, and existing online shoppers extending the range of products they’re prepared to buy online. As a result, we expect online to represent 14% of all retail sales across the Top 5 European countries in 2020, compared to 10.5% the year before. We are also seeing an acceleration in online retail sales growth in line with changing consumer habits, for example with 23% (Germany) to 38% (Italy) of consumers admitting to shopping more online, and this will likely bring a longer-term change, supported by a growing number of retailers adopting an online business of their own.

While this is a positive effect for many retailers, it represents a threat to those without a strong history of ecommerce activity or the capabilities to cope with the rise in online demand. As the proportion of retail sales taking place online increases, benefitting online pure players like Amazon, which are used by 88-98% of those who shopped online across the leading European economies, smaller players and those with less robust ecommerce operations will suffer.

Although ecommerce is still dominated by the online pureplayers, store-based retailers have the advantage of a multichannel strategy and offering consumers more ways to buy their products as well as a base for collections and returns. In fact, in recent years we have seen retailers like Zalando and even Amazon expand their operations by having a stronger physical presence. We expect this to be a growing trend in the medium to long-term, especially during the post-COVID recovery stage.

Key issues covered in this Report

  • The impact of COVID-19 on consumer behaviour and the online retail market

  • How the market will fare in the post-COVID-19 slowdown

  • What people buy online

  • The performance of the major online retailers in 2019

  • Online shopping behaviours and what consumers look for in online retailers.

Report scope

Mintel’s Online Retailing: Inc. Impact of COVID-19 – Europe, July 2020 focuses on the five major economies in Europe, though we do also include estimates for 14 smaller, but important economies in the Executive Summary – The Market section. In total, these countries account for around 24% of all European retail sales, excluding Russia. Online retailing is developing fast, even in the most developed online markets, such as Germany and the UK. However, the level of development varies considerably and, in general, southern Europe lags well behind Northern Europe. What’s more, unlike most retailing sectors, online shopping is experiencing a positive impact from the COVID-19 pandemic, which is accelerating growth due to store closures and an overall shift to online.

The report provides market size data for 21 European countries from 2015 to 2019 and market size forecasts for the five leading economies (France, Germany, Italy, Spain and the UK).

The five major economies are looked at in detail: the UK, Germany, France, Italy and Spain are each available for purchase as individual reports. These countries include extensive consumer research commissioned exclusively for our report(s).

Consumer research

For our consumer research this year we asked questions on the following topics:

  • Which products consumers have bought online in the last 12 months

  • The frequency with which consumers have shopped online in the last 12 months

  • The retailers used for online shopping in the last 12 months

  • Important features looked for when shopping online.

The UK report includes these questions and looks at the issues in greater depth.

Market definition

Following the standard for the previous reports, this is a report about shopping online. At risk of over-simplification it is about (almost) everything you can buy in shops. It does not include services or downloads. Nor does it include any B2B activities. In the UK, those are covered in a recent Mintel report on B2B eCommerce – UK, March 2020.

Our market sizes and forecasts are for all retail sales transacted online. But we make the distinction between sales by store-based retailers and those by retailers who only trade online (or do the majority of their business online) and we refer to those as “online pureplayers”. For the former, we think that online is an integral part of the store-based retail proposition and that it is artificial to make a distinction. For the pureplayers, online is the only route to market.


One of the features of the development of ecommerce has been the emergence and growth of so-called “marketplaces”. Marketplaces are umbrella organisations that allow small retailers to trade more effectively. The largest and most obvious example operating in Europe is eBay. But it is not alone and AliExpress, the consumer side of Alibaba, is growing fast in Europe as well.

But many other online retailers offer similar services. Amazon is the obvious example and over half of Amazon’s total retail volume currently comes through its marketplace sellers.

The perennial problem in a report such as this is whether to include marketplaces, such as eBay and AliExpress. We have decided that it is right to do so. In part this is because it would be inconsistent to include Amazon and not the leading marketplaces. But we also think that there’s an analogy with voluntary or symbol groups. Marketplaces provide an umbrella organisation for independent retailers to trade under, in the same way that, for example, Spar does for independent grocers.

There are other grey areas in these definitions. For example, should something that is ordered online but collected in-store (Click & Collect) be included? And what about Argos’ “reserve and collect” service – if something is ordered online, but collected and paid for in-store? Our solution is to follow the companies in how they define it and in how they make their returns.

Our national market sizes are for online retail spending by consumers in each country so they include any purchases from non-domestic retailers (ie cross-border). An exception to this is the UK report, where we use ONS data as the basis of our market size. ONS data is based on returns submitted by retailers in the UK, so will exclude online sales where these are fulfilled by a company based outside of the UK but is likely to include sales by UK companies to any overseas customers.

Data sources

The UK has led the way in putting online data into the national statistics and that is the basis for all our UK analysis. Elsewhere the data is more patchy. The bevh produces data for Germany which we think is reliable. But most other countries are much less well served. In some cases there is data for all online commerce, but no breakdown between retail and business to business.

Our analysis is based on what data we have been able to find plus surveys carried out by Eurostat. Eurostat carries out major annual surveys of consumers on a face-to-face basis. For our purposes it produces data on the proportion of households that have an internet connection and the number of people who say they have bought something online.

Our analysis takes the Eurostat data for the number of shoppers and relates it to the data which we think is reliable from the UK, Germany and France. This gives us a relationship between the number of shoppers and the size of the market in terms of spend per shopper. This data then needs sense checking and adjusting where necessary. We think, for example, that the numbers it produces are too low for Italy. But overall it is a good guide to both the sales trends and to their absolute value.


One regular source of confusion in the data is that some relates to all e-commerce and not just retail. The problem is that there is a wide range of business transacted online – there is substantial B2B activity and for consumers there is leisure and services turnover, such as banking, as well. There is no clear guideline for the retail proportion of all online commerce. We think that some data is much better than others. Overall we think that the retail proportion of all online spending in Spain is around 25% and in France at least 35%.

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