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Put European trade top of the digital agenda

David Smith

Utter the word “Europe” at the moment and doubtless talk will turn to Greek austerity measures and the euro’s precarious position. But in the common market of ecommerce, Europe is far from a dirty word. Indeed, as the UK market matures, many shrewd online retailers are looking to Europe as the next big opportunity.

Etail trade body IMRG has long enjoyed a valued relationship with Neelie Kroes, the European Commissioner with responsibility for the digital agenda. We were further heartened by her recently reaffirmed support for a single digital economy across the EU, an aim that forms a major strand of the European Commission’s Digital Agenda document. Published last month, the agenda contains some striking statistics. The vast majority - 92% - of European online shoppers buy only from merchants in their own country.

Meanwhile, 60% of attempted cross-border transactions fail due to technical reasons or refused payments. Apparently, it’s easier for some Europeans to buy online from the US than from one of their neighbouring states.

The Commissioner intends to tackle this issue by removing obstacles to European competitiveness. By 2015 she would like half the population of Europe to be shopping online. Meanwhile, she has set a target of 20% of the population to be shopping across borders by the same date. The barriers to reaching these goals are daunting but not insurmountable: regulatory hurdles must be overcome, consumers’ fraud concerns mitigated, and online payments need to be made easier.

Retailers themselves can boost their chances of attracting a wider European consumer audience by adding alternative payment methods. Five years to get cross-border shopping in Europe up from 8% to 20% is a big ask but the opportunities cannot be ignored.

David Smith is managing director of etail trade body IMRG

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