Belgian e-commerce was worth 9.1 billion euros in 2016, spent by consumers on online purchases. However, the role of online touchpoints is larger than that of just a purchase channel: many customers look up information online before committing to a purchase, compare prices or are being exposed to online adverts. Research conducted by GfK demonstrates that there is a strong increase in combining online and offline touchpoints while shopping, so-called omni-channel shopping!
Increased importance of online and omni-channel shopping
In 2016, Belgians spent as much as 9.1 billion euros on online purchases, a new record. But this increase in online spending doesn't mean that "traditional retailing" is a thing of the past. On the contrary, an increasing number of consumers combines online and offline sources while shopping, and the omni-channel consumer is born.
There is of course a number of sectors where this trend is more defined. An example is the fashion category, where 43% of consumers indicate that they combine online and offline touchpoints in their search for clothing, shoes or accessories. Combining channels is also popular with of toys consumers (36%) and electronics consumers (32%). In this last category, we also note a strong increase in the share of consumers shopping exclusively online (from 16% to 21%).
Categories where e-commerce is still in the build-up phase fall behind in this omni-channel trend. Products such as household products (92%) and packaged food and drink (91%) in particular are still bought exclusively through traditional, offline channels by an overwhelming majority of consumers.
No revolution (yet) in Belgium
Although the phenomenon of omni-channel shopping is also beginning to appear in Belgium, Belgians are lagging behind their European neighbours. Significant differences can be seen in the top categories. In fashion, the difference is 11 percentage points (43% omni-channel shopping behaviour versus 54% for Europe) and as much as 16 percentage points for consumer electronics (32% omni-channel shopping behaviour versus 48% for Europe) and toys (36% omni-channel shopping behaviour versus 52% for Europe).
This difference is also found when looking at the belief in omni-channel or e-commerce shopping in Belgium: only 1 in 4 Belgians is convinced that they can meet almost all their needs through online shopping (vs. 4 in 10 Europeans). In addition, approximately 1 in 3 Europeans (35%) believes in a future where traditional retailers are no longer an important factor, whereas in Belgium this is just under 1 in 5 (18%).
That being said, the Belgian retail sector does take the trend into account: after all, young people (18-26 years old) have already jumped on the omni-channel bandwagon, with half of them shopping for consumer electronics in the "omni-channel way". 51% of young people combine online and offline channels during shopping for clothing, shoes and accessories too.
Each channel its contribution, each channel its cost
It is not surprising that consumers increasingly combine online and offline channels: an omni-channel experience feels very natural. Consumers look for the experience that is best for them, and each channel can contribute their bit to this.
We sooner turn to online channels for instance if we want to save money (51%), if we want to save time (31%) or because it feels as the easier option (20%). In addition, one in five Belgians indicates that a better range of products is an important factor in their online shopping.
For 53% of Belgians on the other hand, wanting to see the actual product first is a reason to visit an offline store, whereas having to pay delivery charges constitutes a barrier for 43%. We also shop offline because it is part of a routine (33%), we are better informed (26%) or because the purchased item is available to us faster (21%).
Although 1 in 2 Belgians shop online because they believe it is cheaper, 22% of Belgians are convinced that offline shopping saves money. When we ask a bit further, we ultimately find that 54% of Belgians expect the price of a product to be the same online and offline.
What does 2017 have in store?
We expect the e-commerce and omni-channel business to grow, and do so at the expense of traditional, exclusively offline shopping. Categories such as FMCG will see growth through online initiatives by different retailers, whereas the specific role of mobile will also evolve further, partly due to the introduction of mobile payments.
The first official figures on how the Belgians have started 2017 in terms of e-commerce, are expected early June!
- GfK Belgium, FutureBuy study, online survey of 1000 consumers, July 2016
- BeCommerce and GfK Belgium, BeCommerce Market Monitor 2016