For Europe really is a huge market. Its 27 member states make up one single market of more than 490 million consumers, according to European Commission figures. And it’s the Commission’s aim to make sure that there’s an efficient and duty-free market for e-commerce, just as for any other form of internal EU trade. Contrast the numbers with the 60 million or so UK residents, and you begin to get an idea of why moving into Europe represents a serious opportunity for UK retailers. In terms of logistics, it’s nearby and it’s also home to some of the UK’s largest trading partners, among them Germany and France.
But so far UK retailers haven’t done too well in European high streets – and there’s little evidence that they’re taking a lead online either. European bricks and mortar retailers are a common enough sight on UK streets, from Mango to Zara, Benetton to H&M. Some have active online shops geared towards the UK consumer. Few if any UK retailers are taking the European market as seriously as many European retailers take the UK. The obvious argument would be that the UK has a larger and more developed online market and so is more attractive for traders; the counterargument, as made by Steve Davis of GSI Commerce in our strategy section, is that since e-commerce rates are lower in Europe, that’s where the largest future potential growth lies.