Online Retail Is Front and Centre in the Quest for Growth
The 2013 Global Retail E-Commerce Index™
Courtesy A.T Kearney (www.atkearney.com)
E-commerce websites are no longer just offshoots of retailers’ physical stores but valid alternatives for global expansion.
Today’s most successful retailers see global expansion as a crucial platform for growth. Wary of “real estate wars” and long ROI horizons, many have seized the online retail opportunity to overcome these challenges. Retailers everywhere are diving into online retail as consumers across the globe in both developed and developing markets go online to buy products. They are using a variety of growth strategies, from grassroots websites to acquisitions of smaller online retailers or expansion of international shipping capabilities.
A.T. Kearney unveiled the first E-Commerce Index in 2012, highlighting the top 10 developing countries for online retail investment. This year we have taken the Index one step further, ranking the top 30 countries in both developing and developed markets. The rankings are based on nine variables, including select macroeconomic factors as well as those that examine consumer adoption of technology, shopping behaviors, infrastructure, and retail-specific activities. The Index balances current online retail market indicators with those that reveal the potential for future growth. This study is designed to help retailers devise successful global online retail strategies and identify market investment opportunities while understanding the tradeoffs and barriers to success.
About the 2013 Global Retail E-Commerce Index
A.T. Kearney’s Global Retail E-Commerce Index ranks the most attractive countries for online retail on a 0-to-100-point scale. The higher the score, the more potential a country has in online retail.
Online retail is defined as the sale of consumer goods to the general public through websites operated by pure-play online retailers or those owned by store-based retailers. This term also includes mobile commerce sales through smartphones or tablets. Sales are attributed to the country where the purchase is made, not where retailers are located.
Online retail encompasses the following consumer goods categories:
- Beauty and personal care
- Consumer appliances
- Consumer electronics and video games hardware
- Do-it-yourself and gardening
- Food and beverages
- Home care products
- Housewares and home furnishings
- Media products
- Toys and games
- Other products1
Online market attractiveness is based on the following metrics:
Online market size (40 percent). Current online retail sales. The higher the rating the greater current online retail market size.
Technology adoption and consumer behavior (20 percent).
Indicators of online consumer behavior, such as Internet penetration, purchasing trends, and technology adoption. The higher the rating, the more favorable a country’s consumer base is for transacting online.
Infrastructure (20 percent).
Indicators of financial and logistical infrastructure development, including credit cards per household and the availability and quality of logistics providers. The higher the rating, the more conducive a country’s infrastructure is for purchasing online.
Growth potential (20 percent).
Projected online retail sales growth. The higher the rating, the greater the projected rate of growth.
Data and analyses are based on Euromonitor, International Telecommunications Union, World Bank, and World Economic Forum databases.
The Index Findings
The Index rankings show a combination of developed and developing markets (see figure 1). China occupies the top spot, and the G8 countries (Japan, United States, United Kingdom, Germany, France, Canada, Russia, and Italy) all fall within the Top 15. In the middle of the rankings is a compression of scores, with only five points separating the 15th- and 30th-ranked countries.
Developing countries feature prominently in the Index, holding 10 of the 30 spots, including first-place China. These markets have been able to shortcut the traditional online retail maturity curve as online retail grows at the same time that physical retail becomes more organized. Consumers in these markets are fast adopting behaviors similar to those in more developed countries. For example, mobile phones per capita in Russia (1.8) and the United Arab Emirates (1.7) are much higher than many developed markets. Consumers in these countries use their phones to research products, compare prices, and seek input from their friends on social media.
The rankings include 10 “small gems”—countries with populations of less than 10 million, including Singapore, Hong Kong, Slovakia, New Zealand, Finland, United Arab Emirates, Norway, Ireland, Denmark, and Switzerland—that have active online consumers and sufficient infrastructure to support online retail. On the other hand, India, the world’s second most populous country at 1.2 billion, does not make the Top 30, because of low Internet penetration (10 percent) and poor financial and logistical infrastructure compared to other countries.
India’s Unharnessed Online Retail Potential
India is on many online retailers’ radars; after all, it is the second most populous country in the world (1.2 billion people), with an online retail market worth $1.5 billion. Yet it falls short of the Index’s rankings because of its low Internet penetration and significant infrastructure constraints.
Increasing Internet penetration remains the key to unlocking India’s online retail potential. Only one in 10 Indians use the Internet, as many lack access to a computer and fixed broadband. Mobile phone usage may bolster this rate, as more than 900 million Indians have mobile phone subscriptions, but only 10 percent of mobile subscriptions are for smartphones. Internet penetration may dramatically improve in the coming years as smartphone usage increases, mobile broadband improves, and India’s government rolls out its National Optical Fibre Network plan.
India’s poor logistics and transportation infrastructure, particularly outside of tier 1 cities, makes timely delivery difficult. Planned infrastructure improvements on roads and highways in tier 2 and 3 cities would improve the base of online consumers.
Low credit card penetration and complex tax laws also impede Indian consumers’ ability to conduct online retail transactions efficiently. Cash on delivery (COD) is common in India, as only 10 percent of Indian households have a credit card. However, many retailers recently halted COD payment options in Uttar Pradesh, India’s most populous state, because of operational challenges. In addition, India’s complex state and local tax laws hinder online retailers’ ability to apply accurate taxes to online orders. The planned introduction of a Goods and Services Tax (GST) is expected to mitigate tax complexity across states and improve online retail efficiency in the future.
Despite the hurdles, India’s large population presents retailers with a tremendous long-term opportunity, especially as investments are made to shore up infrastructure gaps. Today, 58 percent of online users make purchases, a figure that will increase as retailers are able to improve consumer conditions.
More Similar than Different?
Globally over the past five years, online retail has grown at a 17 percent CAGR, with growth particularly strong in Latin America (27 percent) and Asia Pacific (25 percent) (see figure 2).
At first glance, online retail in developed and developing markets appears vastly different. In developed markets, retailers with an established presence in physical stores are struggling to integrate their in-store and online channels to offer consumers a seamless shopping experience. Retailers in developing markets, however, worry less about multichannel integration and more about addressing the barriers to online purchasing, such as financial and logistical infrastructure and cultural norms.
However, both types of markets share many similarities, which retailers should account for as they expand their global presence online.
Consumers today are more sophisticated. Consumers in both developed and developing markets do their homework before buying something online, studying product features, pricing, shipping options, and retailer return policies. They gather information from stores and websites and solicit friends’ opinions through social media and blogs. For example, research has found that half of French consumers research products in-store before buying online, and about three quarters of Brazilian consumers hold product discussions on social networks before important purchases. More consumers are relying on comparison shopping engines (CSEs)—websites that collect information from participating retailers and aggregate information on a single results page—to select retailers that offer the best overall product value. Google Shopping, Nextag, and PriceGrabber are popular CSEs in the United States, and similar sites have spread elsewhere, including France’s Cdiscount and Brazil’s Buscapé.
Now more than ever, consumers are using mobile phones and smart devices to research products and prices. Studies have found that nine out of 10 mobile phone owners in Brazil and more than half in the United Kingdom use mobile devices to learn about retail offerings.
Sellers are getting more creative and skillful, too. Retailers recognize that, to attract these sophisticated consumers, they must offer a compelling online value proposition, and they are adjusting their online offerings accordingly. Retailer websites have evolved into product encyclopedias with detailed product images, specifications, suggested item pairings, and user reviews. The interactive website at online fashion retailer Net-a-Porter showcases multiple product images and outlines specific details on product size, fit, and composition. Editor’s notes accompany all featured items and highlight current fashion trends and product pairings. Consumers can also contact fashion advisors to get style advice and assistance in creating their ultimate wardrobe.
To attract online consumers, retailers in all markets are using social media networks, but in different ways. Many Chinese retailers encourage customers to write post-purchase reviews in exchange for loyalty points or online coupons, understanding that product reviews influence online purchase decisions and positive feedback can encourage sales. On the other hand, in developed markets, online retailers such as Amazon mine online purchase reviews for insights on flawed products, poorly written instruction manuals, and supply chain hiccups.
Retailers are also pushing the envelope on delivery options to enhance online shopping convenience. UK grocer Asda is piloting the use of collection lockers outside of its stores so that online consumers don’t have to worry about racing to the supermarket to pick up their “click-and-collect” orders before the store closes. Also under consideration are collection hubs in business parks, universities, train stations, and park-and-ride stations. In developing markets, retailers are making similar strides in product delivery despite greater logistical constraints. Chilean department store Falabella gives online consumers a 24-hour product delivery option and allows them to select from a variety of delivery times.
Similarly, retailers are providing a wider variety of payment options to enhance convenience. In China, where there is less than one credit card per household, electronics retailer Suning allows consumers to pay for online purchases using online bank accounts, credit cards, third-party payment services (such as Alipay), and cash on delivery.
Consumer electronics and apparel dominate. Consumers across the globe have different tastes and preferences for consumer electronics and clothing, yet these two categories dominate online retail sales almost everywhere (see figure 3).
Electronics and appliances sell well on the Internet because products in those categories have distinct specifications that can be effectively communicated online. Consumers can also easily research these products on the Web, read product reviews, and compare prices across retailers.
Apparel is a popular category even as many consumers still prefer to try on clothing before purchase. The reasons for this differ by market. In developing markets such as China and Russia, the Internet gives individuals outside of top-tier cities access to the latest fashions and brand names they otherwise lack access to. In developed markets such as Japan and Germany, apparel buyers are drawn online by the promise of “risk-free” purchases. Sophisticated retail websites enable consumers to see apparel products on virtual models and examine the looks from all angles, and they offer free shipping, timely delivery, and hassle-free returns that allow product returns at little or no cost.
Competition is fierce. The online space is uniquely competitive, as many retailers jockey for a foothold in a high-growth channel. Fierce competition translates into market fragmentation; in each of the top 30 markets, 50 retailers or more account for 80 percent of online sales. Pure-play online retailers were often first movers, so they lead 26 of the 30 markets (Brazil, Chile, Switzerland, and New Zealand are the exceptions). Amazon is also the top online retailer in nine markets (eight of which are developed), highlighting its aggressive international expansion strategy over the past decade and its ability to quickly gather followings. Pure-play Online retailers have held their own, increasing their average market share by 2 percent despite aggressive expansion strategies by multichannel retailers.
Many retailers with strong global brand names are partnering with e-commerce and third-party logistics management companies to sell goods to international consumers. For example, UK retailers Next, Debenhams, and House of Fraser ship to 61, 67, and 128 countries, respectively. Firms such as Borderfree (whose clients include Macy’s, Crate and Barrel, and David’s Bridal) handle currency conversions and global shipping logistics on behalf of retailers, including customs and returns. As more companies build up their international shipping capabilities, global online retail competition will increase.
Technology remains of paramount importance. Technology remains a crucial component of online retail, both in retailer-customer interactions and back-end retail capabilities. Many developed-market retailers are experimenting with cutting-edge customer interface technologies to increase online sales. American eyeglass retailer Warby Parker uses an intuitive, simple, online experience that takes advantage of the latest interface technologies. Its “virtual try-on” feature allows users to upload photos of themselves and test different styles without visiting a store, and its generous no-cost return policy encourages sales.
Many retailers use in-store kiosks to increase online sales from physical store locations. UK retailer Marks & Spencer has interactive screens and transaction kiosks in smaller stores to give consumers access to more products available online and in other stores. The company employs specially trained style advisors in women’s fashion and equips them with Apple iPads to enhance the customer experience.
Customer interface technology, while still important, is becoming less of a competitive differentiator as many retailers now focus on customer relationship management and backend capabilities such as order processing, fulfillment, and delivery to drive online sales. Showroomprive, the second-largest online apparel retailer in France, has invested in a cross-channel customer relationship platform that centralizes all email, phone calls, and chats. As such, the company can optimize consumer touch points and effectively tailor its offerings based on consumer insights. UK retailer Tesco has partnered with Dematic to install automated fulfillment capabilities at its dedicated warehouses for online purchases that exclusively focus on fulfilling online orders. Tesco’s transition to automated picking and handling doubles existing pick rates, increases shipment volume, and maintains high online service levels.
The “Key Three” Market Types
As in any globalization strategy, there are four main questions to contemplate while considering online retail expansion and investments:
- How big is the market?
- How fast is the market growing?
- How do consumers behave within the market?
- Is there sufficient infrastructure in place to deliver on the online customer promise?
The matrix in figure 4 helps to answer these questions by comparing online growth potential to online consumer behavior in the Global Retail E-Commerce Index’s top 30 countries. This comparison offers an insight into the three primary types of online retail markets, which we refer to as the “key three.”
In the following sections we look at all three market segments and some of the most important countries in each.
Next Generation markets primarily include developing markets with high growth potential but less favorable online consumer behavior and lower technology adoption rates relative to other countries. These countries typically have lower Internet penetration rates, particularly the largest markets such as China (38 percent), Brazil (45 percent), and Russia (49 percent), where there are significant rural populations with sporadic Internet access. Once they do get online, however, at least 40 percent of consumers in these markets make Web purchases despite constraints in the financial or logistical infrastructure. These markets also have active mobile phone users; of the 12 Next Generation countries, only China and Turkey have less than one phone per capita.
Establishing an online presence in these markets requires a focus on brand development consistent with global standards and delivery capabilities that beat the competition. Most Internet shoppers in developing markets look at brands’ global sites to understand the offers and positioning. In some ways, these shoppers are more demanding that brands’ offers fulfill their idea of the brand’s global vision.
China (1st): An expanding online empire. China’s $64 billion online retail market (second in size only to the United States) will explode over the next five years to $271 billion, thanks to infrastructure improvements, increased Internet access for rural regions, rising wealth, and consumers’ growing predisposition to spend.2 China has the world’s largest population (1.36 billion), the most Internet users (517 million), and the most online shoppers (220 million). Pricing, promotions, and broad assortments, along with have encouraged Chinese consumers to buy online rather than in physical stores. The convenience of e-commerce and purchase satisfaction have led to an increase in online purchase frequency. Fifty-four percent of online shoppers made more than 20 purchases in 2012, up from 41 percent in 2011. Sales will increase further as more rural Chinese gain Internet access and infrastructure gaps are addressed.
Profits are hard to come by for online retailers, however. A “race to the bottom” pricing mentality dominates in a competitive market, as retailers lowering prices to increase sales and gain market share. Over the past year, online merchants Dangdang and JD.com have battled on price, particularly in advance of Chinese New Year and the Chinese holiday Singles Day.
In addition, retailers are investing substantially in improving distribution and logistics capabilities, further impacting profits.
Online marketplace models such as Taobao and Tmall own about half of e-commerce traffic in China, as they efficiently pool together consumers and retailers in a central location and offer consumers access to a wide variety of online retail products at competitive price points. Most retailers that have not yet created a Web presence in China sell goods through marketplaces to reach a broader base of online consumers, and multichannel retailers also rely on them to strengthen their online sales. Uniqlo, Gap, Esprit, and Levi’s have all opened stores on Tmall as part of their Chinese e-commerce strategies. However, the marketplace model competes fiercely with pure-play online retailers, as most would rather sell through their own websites than share revenues with marketplace operators.
China is in the early stages of multichannel retail as retailers slowly begin entering the online space. Multichannel crossover is rare as most Chinese retailers operate their physical store and online businesses separately. One first mover in this world is Suning, which allows customers to pick up, exchange, or return online orders in stores, or place orders in stores and select home delivery. As online retail explodes, shopping malls and department stores are fighting to remain relevant by innovating and becoming “experience destinations.” For example, Huaguan Department Store has reallocated 30 percent of its floor space to food, entertainment, and children’s activities.
Logistical challenges, particularly outside of urban centers, have kept China from its full online retail potential. JD.com has built its own logistics infrastructure (including a recent $580 million investment) to fill orders across mainland China and now offers same-day delivery in 23 cities and second-day delivery in 151 cities.
Social media plays an important role. More than 80 percent of Chinese consumers say they use social media to learn about products before purchase, and 66 percent write product reviews after making a purchase. Social media platforms such as Sina Weibo (a Twitter-like service; “weibo” is the Chinese word for microblog) and mobile text and voice messaging service WeChat each have more than 300 million users and encourage consumers to chat about their online experiences and blog about products. Niche social media sites focus on specific categories, such as beauty and fashion. For example, Meilishuo, a social shopping website, has more than 30 million users per month and has attracted global interest from notable CPG manufacturers such as Procter & Gamble, L’Oréal, and Shiseido.
Brazil (8th): A social commerce champion. Brazil is a budding online retail giant—already at $11 billion in size, the market is projected to grow at a CAGR of 20 percent over the next five years. The country has 90 million Internet users, 57 percent of whom buy online, and features the largest social networking base in Latin America. Only 45 percent of Brazilians have Internet access, but as rural customers get online, sales will rise. The upcoming 2014 World Cup and 2016 Olympic Games will further spur online retail sales, driving the online retail market to $28 billion by 2017.
Brazil’s strong and growing middle class shops online to get more “bang for the buck.” To capture big bargains, these price-conscious shoppers use group-buying sites such as Peixe Urbano and Groupon and price comparison websites such as Buscapé, which features information on more than 7 million products in 60,000 stores. Although more than 10 million Brazilians place orders annually via group buying websites, some retailers are scaling back as few of these customers convert into loyal customers.
Brazilian consumers read online product reviews and solicit friends’ opinions, often through social media, before making purchase decisions. General merchandise retailer Magazine Luiza encourages consumers to open their own digital Luiza stores on Facebook and sell to others within their social networks. Magazine Luiza estimates that online sales conversion rates for these social sites is 40 percent higher than on its own website.
Online retail competition is fierce in Brazil, given its market size and upside potential. B2W, operator of the Americanas and Submarino websites, is Brazil’s largest online retailer with 16.5 percent market share. U.S.-based Wal-Mart and Amazon each have 1 percent online market share and are implementing strategies to grow. Wal-Mart has established its Latin American online headquarters in suburban São Paulo and will increase its staff from 900 to 2,000 employees by the end of 2014. It plans to import several products not yet sold in Brazil, such as Graco baby strollers and Rubbermaid coolers. Amazon, in contrast, is pursuing a different approach, limiting its assortment to e-books and Kindle devices.
Logistics and on-time delivery remain challenges for online retailers in Brazil. To address these issues, the Brazilian government has invested in air and shipping ports to shore up infrastructure gaps while retailers such as B2W and Wal-Mart are building dedicated online warehouses to get products to customers faster. B2W plans to spend $450 million to build 10 online distribution centers after it received negative press for failing to deliver goods during the Christmas season.
Russia (13th): A favorable online frontier. Russia’s large ($10 billion) and fast-growing (18 percent CAGR through 2018) online market is quickly evolving into a dominant force that is drawing both domestic and foreign retailers. Russia has Europe’s largest online population (70 million users, roughly half of the population) and 33 million online shoppers. Moscow and St. Petersburg account for three-quarters of Russia’s online retail transactions, but as smaller cities gain Internet access, sales will grow.
Online retail competition is heating up, given Russia’s market size and tremendous upside potential. The market is fragmented, with no individual player commanding more than 4 percent market share, so both pure-play online and multichannel retailers are investing to increase sales and market share. Lamoda, an online fashion retailer, has set up its own logistics and courier service to enable next-day delivery of clothing, shoes, and accessories to 25 cities. Once a delivery arrives, shoppers have 15 minutes to try on the items with a courier trained to offer style and size advice.
Foreign retailers also have their eye on Russia. Quick fashion retailer Zara launched its online retail business this year with a website that will offer shoppers the same full range of merchandise for women, men, and children as found in stores. Amazon has also signaled plans to move into Russia in 2013 by placing job listings and applying for patents in storage and delivery.
Competitive pricing and solid assortments bring Russian buyers online. Using Yandex, a Russian search engine, buyers seek to discover the latest online promotions and compare prices across retailers. For Russians outside of Moscow and St. Petersburg, online retail offers access to brand-name goods that local shops do not provide. Although Russia’s infrastructure is underdeveloped relative to Western standards—delivery times are often measured in weeks, not days—consumers in rural areas are increasingly willing to wait for brand-name products at competitive prices.
Russia’s logistics infrastructure will need to improve for it to reach its full potential. Many retailers are taking matters into their own hands, investing in logistics and distribution capabilities to fill customer orders efficiently, particularly in smaller cities. Online retailer Ozon has established its own distribution network of 2,100 pickup points in 130 cities, with another 2,000 planned by 2015. It has built a second, 16,200-square-meter warehouse in Yekaterinburg to fulfill customer orders outside of Moscow and St. Petersburg.
Russia’s financial infrastructure has hampered online growth. Cash is the dominant payment method in a country where only one in three households has a credit card, and where many do not trust the security of online transactions. Most online retailers offer a cash-on-delivery option, and alternative payment mechanisms are also gaining consumer traction. One of the brightest examples is Qiwi, a payment service that allows customers to pay for bills or add money to debit cards. Qiwi recently partnered with Visa to create Visa Virtual, which now boasts 11 million consumers who deposit money into accounts that can be used in the same way as credit cards. However, buying maximums of roughly $500 per transaction limit online purchasing of big-ticket items.
Established and Growing
This set of countries primarily comprises well-established yet growing and still attractive online retail markets. Shoppers have online access (Internet penetration of 80 percent or greater) and routinely buy products online (more than 60 percent of Internet users buy online). However, growth prospects vary within this group. As one would expect, those with lower online buying rates (60 to 70 percent of Internet users shop online), such as Australia, Canada, and the United States, have greater growth prospects than those with higher rates, such as the Nordic and Western European countries (70 to 80 percent).
Going forward, success in these markets will depend on innovation across all the customer touch points, better insight into why consumers buy online versus other channels, and what customers’ expectations are from pre-purchase to delivery.
United States (3rd): An innovative giant. The United States is the 800-pound gorilla in global online retail. It has the world’s largest online retail market ($177 billion today and expected to nearly double by 2017), an advanced infrastructure, and a rich, large, and dynamic consumer base accustomed to buying online. Almost 250 million Americans use the Web, and 177 million routinely purchase goods online. Sixty-one percent of American mobile phone subscriptions are for smartphones, and 34 percent own a tablet.
The online retail market remains fragmented—more than 450 retailers account for 70 percent of sales, led by online-only giants Amazon (17 percent market share) and eBay (6 percent). Amazon’s market share has more than doubled from 7 percent five years ago as it has moved into new fast-growing categories such as beauty and fashion, developed its Kindle tablet (which leads to future sales of e-books and other entertainment), and created a state-of-theart delivery network (including Amazon Prime, which, among other perks, allows free two-day domestic delivery). Five of the top 10 online retailers in the United States are multichannel players (Apple, Wal-Mart, Sears, Best Buy, and Macy’s).
Online shoppers in the United States expect competitive prices, easy payment options, quick delivery and free returns, and top-notch customer service. They also value the option to purchase items and pick them up in their channels of their choice. Simply offering large assortments at competitive prices will not be sufficient to compete going forward. Future online leaders will create innovative business models and provide personalized offerings to sophisticated retail consumers.
Americans are warming up to the idea of collaborative and personalized online business models that offer shoppers a more engaging retail experience. Rent the Runway is a popular online website that allows women to look at online “racks” of online apparel and rent clothing and accessories direct from the runway. Gilt Groupe sends daily personalized emails to members with specific sale notifications based on their online browsing habits and historic purchases.
Retailers are making significant investments to integrate channels, given the value Americans place on making purchases in the channel of their choice. Macy’s, whose online market share has doubled since 2007, is a pioneer in integrating online and offline distribution networks. The company’s store-to-door strategy uses more than 300 stores as fulfillment centers for macys.com. Macy’s shoppers can see in-store product availability and decide whether to purchase a product online or in-store. Fashion retailer H&M entered the U.S. online retail market by launching pop-up stores in Manhattan where shoppers could touch and feel clothing and then order their size online for free delivery in two to three days.
United Kingdom (4th): A multichannel leader. The UK’s active online consumer base and advanced infrastructure make it an attractive online retail market. The country has 50 million Internet users (82 percent of the population), 80 percent of whom buy products online. Of online buyers, 45 percent uses smartphones to surf the Web and make purchases. The UK’s online retail market—worth $48 billion and expected to grow to $73 billion by 2017—will offer both multichannel retailers and pure-play online sellers a tremendous opportunity in coming years.
Amazon leads the UK’s online retail market (16 percent market share), followed by Tesco (9 percent) and eBay (8 percent). Many retailers are investing to steal market share. Grocers Tesco and Asda are both investing in “dark stores” to keep up with the pace of online growth and complement their in-store fulfillment models. General goods retailer Argos recently announced a trial partnership with eBay in which Argos’s store footprint serves as a collection point for eBay orders. This arrangement allows eBay to offer a click-and-collect option, while Argos gets additional traffic.
The UK’s online grocery market is well ahead of most other markets in the world, as retailers such as Tesco and Asda invested heavily in their online businesses early on, recognizing the favorable consumer and demographic trends.3 For one, the average UK consumer shops weekly for groceries. Secondly, high population density within a small geography makes online grocery orders and home delivery more economically viable for retailers. Tesco, the world’s leading online grocer, has had online sales since 1996, and Asda and Sainsbury’sfollowed in 1998. Persistence has paid off—Tesco turned its first profit in the online retail channel in 2006 and now generates 7 percent of its revenues online.
UK consumers have years of experience buying online, and their needs have evolved over time. In the past, buyers went online to research products, find the best price, and purchase hard-to-find items. Today, more demand detailed product information, reviews, free delivery, faster shipping options, hassle-free returns, and customer service. Going forward, physical stores may primarily function as places to fulfill immediate purchase needs, collect online orders, or try out products.
As the market matures, cross-channel features are becoming standard offerings in multichannel retail. A recent A.T. Kearney study found that most UK multichannel retailers offer cross-channel returns and exchanges, different types of delivery, and redirection to other channels for out of stocks.
Multichannel integration is becoming a bigger issue for retailers trying to stand out. House of Fraser, a department store, has a mobile application that allows customers to check product stock at stores or online and decide whether they want to pick it up or have it delivered. House of Fraser offers shoppers product promotions that are valid in-store, online, or through an app. Marks & Spencer offers cross-channel transactions and synchronized shopping bags across all channels. Customers can access their shopping carts and accounts online, in the store (via staff iPads or in-store kiosks), and over the phone with call center representatives.
Germany (6th): A growing online dynamo. Germany’s $27 billion online retail market is becoming a global force as its well-connected population (83 percent Internet penetration) shows an affinity for e-commerce (77 percent buy online). Germany’s online retail market is expected to grow 12 percent yearly through 2017—faster than any other country in Western Europe.
Amazon and Otto own nearly half of the online market, but other retailers are making moves to shake up the market. Zalando, an online general merchandise seller, has doubled its revenue every year since opening in 2009, thanks to aggressive advertising targeting young female shoppers and marketing its liberal product return policy, and investment in broadening its SKU assortment. Traditional retailers are either acquiring pure-play online retailers or partnering with them to gain traction in Germany’s online retail market. One example is Media Markt, Europe’s largest consumer electronics retailer, which acquired online rival Redcoon.
Germans are shrewd online shoppers with experience in both researching and buying products online. The average German spends 1½ hours per day on the Internet and makes online purchases because of price deals and product assortments. Germans frequently use price comparison portals such as Idealo and Preisvergleich (which translates in English to “price comparison”) to find the latest deals. Germans also value the opinions of their friends: Although social media has been slower to take off in Germany, 43 percent read social media comments about online offers pre-purchase.
German retailers are making investments to get ahead of the social shopping curve. Fashion retailers Otto and Deichmann are testing social commerce by integrating their online stores with Facebook pages. These retailers have also established dedicated social media teams to monitor and interact with fans on Twitter and Pinterest.
Cross-channel retail is still in its infancy, with most multichannel players operating physical and online businesses independently. Nevertheless, Germany does have some cutting-edge examples of multichannel retail. Adidas has opened 10 “Neo” stores that integrate social media and online into the physical store experience. Targeted at 14- to 19-year-olds, Neo stores have interactive touchscreen windows that allow consumers to test various clothing combinations on digital mannequins and create virtual shopping bags. Consumers can then share these shopping bags on social media sites for product input and then make purchases either online or through their mobile devices.
France (7th): “Drive model” pioneer. France’s $26 billion online retail market and active online consumer base is driven by experienced online shoppers. The country has 50 million Internet users (80 percent Internet penetration) and 35 million routine online buyers who will be spending more than $36 billion online by 2017.
The competitive French online market works hard to meet consumer expectations from pre-purchase to delivery. Amazon leads with 8 percent of the market, thanks to its product breadth (2 million book titles compared to 500,000 at Fnac), low prices, and efficient home delivery. It is followed closely by Apple and Kering (7 percent each).
The French are famous for their love of shopping, but prices have led many French customers online. The majority of French consumers surf the Internet to learn about the latest promotions and consider the Internet the best source of “value deals.” As such, discount websites such as Cdiscount are popular in France as they cater to customers’ online price sensitivity. Vente-privee, a discount website for branded apparel whose name is French for “private sale”, sells fashion products at attractive prices to its 12 million members.
Retailers constantly tweak their online pricing to capture consumer demand. Hypermarket E.Leclerc offers competitive prices online and also operates a price comparison website, quiestlemoinscher.com (translated: “which is the cheapest”), to evaluate prices across retailers. E.Leclerc has in-store kiosks that allow customers to connect to the website and compare prices.
French consumers also value the convenience of online shopping, particularly in grocery. Fifteen percent of French households buy groceries online and select the drive-through pickup option, known as the “Drive Model,” to have their purchases loaded into cars at a store or warehouse. France has more than 2,000 such locations with more expected as prominent retailers such as Auchan, Carrefour, and Intermarché continue to invest in the concept. Today, the Drive Model represents 2.8 percent of France’s overall grocery market—equivalent to an established store such as Aldi—and its share is expected to grow to 20 percent by 2020.
Digital DNA markets are developed countries in Asia Pacific that still hold opportunity for sophisticated players. These markets have solid online consumer behavior that is characterized by a high technology adoption rate; advanced infrastructures; and a track record of innovative, new ways of shopping online. Their projected growth lags other markets because online shopping is already deeply entrenched. Because of this, sophisticated websites, compelling online experiences, and effective last-mile delivery are important growth factors. Leaders will continue to invest in interface technologies and back-end capabilities to differentiate their offers with consumers and customers.
Japan (2nd): Evolving traditions. Japan is an online retail powerhouse, with 100 million Internet users, 75 million online buyers, and $52 billion in online sales. Japan’s advanced financial infrastructure allows consumers to make online purchases efficiently, and its superior logistical infrastructure enables same-day delivery for many online orders. Over the next five years, Japan’s online retail market is expected to reach $80 billion.
Rakuten and Amazon combine for 40 percent market share, with a variety of online players sharing the rest of the market. In 2012, Rakuten (which is named for the Japanese word for “optimism”) invested $100 million in Pinterest to further solidify its top position with Japanese online consumers. Japanese consumers can link their Rakuten ID with Pinterest accounts and then pin, share, click, and buy products online. Smaller pure-play online retailers such as Magaseek are using strategic partnerships to make inroads in Japan. Magaseek partners with Virtusize, a Swedish technology company, to allow customers to virtually try on more than 20,000 fashion items and compare Magaseek apparel to items already in their closets. Through this partnership, Magaseek hopes to alleviate consumer concerns over clothing fit and encourage online purchases.
Japan’s “connected consumers” choose to buy online for convenience. Many have more than one mobile device, connecting with their computers, cell phones, and tablets. They value a personalized and hospitable shopping environment in line with omotenashi, which signifies elevated politeness, value, and respect. However, cultural reservations about debt make Japanese consumers hesitant to buy online using credit cards, even though Japan has the third highest credit card-per-household ratio in world (6.9 credit cards per household). To combat this aversion to debt, most retailers offer the konbini payment option where consumers make purchases online, print out receipts, and pay cash at local convenience stores.
Retailers are investing in online capabilities to meet the needs of Japanese consumers. For example, Amazon has built six fulfillment centers across Japan to enable same- or next-day delivery to major cities. In late 2012, Rakuten purchased Alpha Direct, a French logistics and warehousing company, to strengthen its logistics capabilities in Japan and offer more convenient shipping options in line with Amazon’s offerings.
Plant the Seeds for Growth
Retailers are racing to expand online, and throughout the world they are building capabilities across the retail e-commerce value chain to meet consumer needs and customers’ desires. The winners will recognize commonalities across markets and develop scalable online expansion strategies for local markets. As always, regardless of location, successful retailers will manage the customer experience from browsing and community interaction to purchase to delivery and return in order to maintain and gain market share.
In this fast-moving space, one thing is clear: Online retail is front and center in the quest for growth.
2 All monetary values are in U.S. dollars.