Mintel’s Online Retailing – Europe - July 2015 focuses on the five major economies in Europe, though we do also include estimates for 13 smaller, but important economies in the Executive Summary – the Market section. In total these countries account for around 95% of all European retail sales, excluding Russia. E-commerce is developing at different rates around Europe. Germany and the UK lead the way, but even in some of the major economies, notably Italy, it is still remarkably underdeveloped.

The report provides market size data and forecasts for 18 European countries, 2010-20, and includes profiles of 21 major online/multichannel retailers.

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

Consumer research

Mintel commissioned extensive consumer research in the UK, Germany, France, Italy and Spain.

In each of these markets, we asked a representative sample of internet users:

  • Which devices (laptop/desktop, tablet or smartphone) respondents had used to buy products online in the last 12 months;

  • Which retailers they had bought from;

  • If they agreed with certain attitudinal statements.

In the UK, were able to look at these matters in more detail and we also asked people what they bought online.

Market definition

This is a report about shopping online – in perhaps simplistic terms, it is about (almost) everything you can buy in shops. It does not include services or downloads. Nor does it include any B2B activities. Those are covered in a recent Mintel report on B2B e-commerce – UK - June 2015.

Our market sizes and forecasts are for retail sales transacted online. But these can be either through the websites of internet-only operators, such as Amazon or Cdiscount or through the websites of store-based retailers from Carrefour to John Lewis.

One of the features of the development of e-commerce has been the growth of “marketplaces”. These are umbrella organisations that allow small retailers to trade more effectively. The largest is eBay, but a growing proportion of Amazon’s business is also transacted in this way. eBay is not a retailer in its own right, however it may appear so to online shoppers.

There are substantial 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? One should not get bogged down in such fine detail and we think that the answer is that we 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 (i.e. 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.

Market sizes are quoted including VAT.

The online market sizes (excluding the UK and Germany, where we use BeVH figures) in Online Retailing – Europe - July 2015 are proprietary Mintel market estimates. The basis for these estimates is described in the Executive Summary – the Market section.


This year we have revised the methodology we have used to calculate the size of the e-commerce market in individual European countries in order to more accurately reflect the size of the market. In some cases this has led to some downgradings of estimates, especially in Southern Europe.

For most markets in Europe there is very little data about the e-commerce market. But some things are clear. One can tell, for example, from those figures published by retailers, from comScore data and from Eurostat data where a market is quite underdeveloped. We have therefore used data from well researched markets (such as Germany and the UK) to help us estimate the size of the less developed markets.

  1. We took the known and reliable data for the German and UK markets (from the BeVH and ONS respectively)

  2. We took Eurostat data for the proportion of the population that had bought on line in the previous three months

  3. Putting those together we estimated sales per capita – for those that had bought something online – for 2007 through to 2014

  4. The data was fairly consistent, to the extent that for a proportion of the population, between 40% and 70%, we had a good steer on sales per capita.

  5. We then used that relationship as a guide to what internet sales per capita would be in countries where we only had the Eurostat data for the number who had bought something online.

The underlying assumption to this analysis is that the more mature a market is, the more people will be willing to buy online and so the higher the sales per capita will be. There are factors that work against this, mainly, we think, the fact that even in currently underdeveloped markets, the internet has been around for a long time, giving those consumers that do use it time to get used to it. That means that sales per capita in such markets are probably higher than for the UK and Germany when they were at a similar stage in their development. In mathematical terms, we have fitted a straight line to the data for Germany and the UK, but for data below the bottom of the range, the implied figures are too low. So having made this analysis it is necessary to tweak the numbers, usually depending on our estimates of the sales by the leading players.

Financial definitions

The definitions used in this report for company performance are:

  • Sales: Turnover as reported by the company, excluding VAT.

  • Operating profits: The profit made on trading after all associated costs and depreciation, but before any exceptional charges and financing costs.

  • Pre-tax profits: Operating profit less finance costs and any exceptional charges, but before tax and dividends.

  • Operating margin: Operating profits as a percentage of sales.

Crown copyright material is reproduced with the permission of the Controller of HMSO and the Queen’s Printer for Scotland.

VAT rates

VAT rates were raised in many countries during the downturn, but there have been no further changes since France edged up its rate from 19.5% to 20% on 1 January 2014.

Figure 1: Europe: VAT rates, 2010-15
01-Jan-10 31-Dec-10 01-Jan-11 31-Dec-11 01-Jan-12 01-Jan-13 01-Jan-14
% % % % % % %
Austria 20 20 20 20 20 20 20
Belgium 21 21 21 21 21 21 21
Czech Republic 20 20 20 20 20 21 21
Denmark 25 25 25 25 25 25 25
Finland 23 23 23 23 23 24 24
France 19.6 19.6 19.6 19.6 19.6 19.6 20
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(a) 2011 VAT rise was implemented on 4 January


B2B Business-to-Business
B2C Business-to-Consumer
C2C Consumer-to-Consumer (sales)
CAGR Compound Annual Growth Rate
COICOP Classification of Individual Consumption According to Purpose
CPI Consumer Prices Index
DACH Germany, Austria, Switzerland region
DC Distribution centre
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