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More than half of Europe’s online sales took place on mobile, UK leads the way

Shoppers are once more buying in different ways – and retailers and brands are adapting. Image: Shutterstock

More than half of online sales in 2020 took place on a smartphone or tablet, accounting for €123bn in sales.

A new study by Forrester –  2021 Smartphone And Tablet Online Retail Forecast, Europe  – that mobile devices are driving the boom in ecommerce. The UK accounts for 43% of smartphone and tablet online retail sales across the five key European markets, followed by Germany.

Forrester expects Italy to grow the fastest, at a CAGR of 25.9% from 2019 to 2024.

And mobile will continue to grow beyond 2021, the study says. Smartphone and tablet online retail sales in Europe-5 will cross €265bn in 2024, up from €123bn in 2019 and growing at a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 16.5%).

The share of tablets in online retail sales has continuously declined in the past years, from a peak of 57% in 2014 to 32% in 2019, and we expect it to further decline to 18% of total smartphone and tablet online retail sales by 2024.

Online buyers are increasingly shifting from only researching on mobiles and tablets to purchasing on these devices, especially smartphones. In 2019 there were more than 125 million smartphone buyers and 59.4 million tablet buyers in France, Germany, Italy, Spain, and the UK combined.

Around 60% of online adults in Europe-5 use a computer for researching products online, followed by 54% who use smartphones. This gap is continuously shrinking with the increasing screen size of smartphones, the investments by retailers on mobile apps, and users’ comfort in purchasing high-frequency categories like fashion and grocery on mobile devices.

The UK leads the Europe-5 region in mobile commerce. UK online grocery retailer Ocado launched its mobile app in 2009, and in 2018, over 60% of its business was coming from mobile.

The number of smartphone online buyers will also grow faster than overall online buyers, predicts the report, with the number of smartphone online buyers to grow at a CAGR of 5.8% in Europe-5, more than double the growth rate of total online buyers from 2019 to 2024.

The faster growth rate of smartphone buyers is one of the main drivers of mobile share growth in Europe online retail, which will be aided by the increase in categories purchased online due to COVID-19. We expect the number of tablet buyers to decline at a CAGR of -0.9% between 2019 and 2024, mostly due to the shift toward smartphone

The report also says that European online retailers are set to invest in new methods of mobile commerce, including livestreaming and social commerce. In May 2020, AliExpress, a global marketplace set up by Alibaba, introduced its social commerce product, AliExpress Connect, which includes livestreaming commerce. Italian, Spanish, Russian, Turkish, and, of course, Chinese sellers can now tap into influencers for content (images, videos, etc.) or livestreams.

French retailer Auchan’s electronics private-label brand Qilive piloted a livestream via AliExpress, attracting 18,000 viewers and modest sales. This is still a nascent behaviour in Europe, but as platforms like AliExpress and Amazon launch and promote it, retailers will experiment with it, sellers will pick up on it, and consumers will follow.

Overall retail growth slows

The report also finds that overall retail growth will decline in 2020 by 3.6% across the Europe-5 markets, but online sales will hit record levels.

In 2021, e-commerce will drive two-thirds of retail growth, increasing to 85% of retail growth by 2024. Based on Forrester’s retail models of the impact of COVID-19, offline retail sales reached their peak in 2019.

Also, says the study, COVID-19 continues to accelerate the time consumers spend online, which means more time spent online shopping. During the first COVID-19 wave in Europe, 40% of UK, 31% of French and 47% of Italian online adults bought more products online. Forrester expects this behaviour to continue longer into 2021 as the second wave hits Europe and most countries have entered 2021 under lockdowns.

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