Follow Us On Twitter
Newark Beacon Innovation Centre, Cafferata Way, Newark NG24 2TN - telephone: 0845 122 7058 (Int: +44 84 51 22 70 58) - e-mail:
eCommerce and Online Retailing
Tell a friend about this page.

Online Retailing: Britain, Europe, US and Canada 2016

European Online Growth

E-commerce is the fastest growing retail market in Europe and North America. Online sales in the UK, Germany, France, The Netherlands, Sweden, Italy, Poland and Spain grew from 132.05 bn [156.28 bn] in 2014 to 156.67 bn [185.39 bn] in 2015 (+18.6%). Online sales are expected to grow again to reach 182.80 bn [216.32 bn] in 2016 (+16.7%) and 215.38 bn [250.28 bn] in 2017.

These figures relate only to retail spending, defined as sales of merchandise to the final consumer, excluding cooked food, restaurants, automobiles and vehicle fuel.

The Study

This independent study for 2016-17 has been funded by RetailMeNot. as a contribution to discussion on trends within the sector. RetailMeNot is the world's largest digital coupon marketplace with 730 mn customer visits to its sites in the last year. Its portfolio of coupon and deal websites includes,, Ma Reduc,, and the French cashback service Poulpeo.

Online Growth in North America

Online sales in the U.S. are forecast to grow from $349.20 bn [215.38 bn] in 2015 by 14.4% to reach a total of $399.48 bn [246.39 bn] in 2016. Canada's online sector is comparatively small, but is forecast to grow from US$17.14 bn [10.57 bn] in 2015 to reach $22.96 bn [14.16 bn] in 2016, an increase of +34.0%.

Areas Studied

The Centre for Retail Research has forecast the trends in online retail sales for eight European countries (see above) and the US for more than ten years. The calculation is based on the sales of goods (excluding fuel for vehicles and sales of prepared food in cafes and restaurants). Tickets, holidays, gambling and insurance are also excluded because they are not classed as retailing. 'Online' is defined as sales where the final transaction is made over the internet or at a distance, irrespective of whether the internet has been used for browsing and price comparisons. Sales made using mobile phones and tablets are included in our figures.

One thousand shoppers in each country (a representative demographic cross section) have been surveyed for this project and 100 online traders in each country. We have taken advantage of new data to produce results that are more accurate overall.

Main Results: Regular and Unceasing Growth (so far at least)

The online retail sector is the main driver of growth in European and North American retailing, achieving in Europe growth rates of 18.4% (in 2014), 18.6% (2015) and expected rates in 2016 of 16.7% and in 2017, 15.7%. In comparison the annual growth rates for all types of retailing range between 1.5% and 3.5% pa.

The recession has induced many shoppers to buy online rather from traditional stores. The fact that internet search is comparatively easy and predictable has made online retailing very attractive for a wide range of products. Retail focus on the growing use of mobile technology is an additional factor in making online retailing attractive and convenient.

As before the European online market is dominated by the UK, Germany and France which together are responsible for 81.5% of European sales in these eight countries.

online retail sales

Market Shares

Apart from the UK and Germany, market shares have been comparatively low in most European countries until 2015. Figure 1 shows the European mean was 7.2% in 2014, 8.4% last year and is expected to reach 9.4% in 2016. The UK online share was around 9.4% in 2010 (and now it is 16.8%), so the growth rate in Europe has been comparatively rapid. The countries with the highest online shares of their internal markets are: the UK (16.8% forecast for 2016); Germany (13.5% for 2016); and France (9.4% in 2016).Other countries with high market shares are Sweden and The Netherlands. Germany has had the fastest-growing online sector for the last few years, but this year its 18.3% forecast growth will be just pipped by Spain (18.8%).

In previous surveys the CRR argued that the very rapid growth of the smaller ecommerce countries then occurring compared with the slower growth in the larger ecommerce countries meant that the smaller countries would have caught up in the next four or five years. From the vantage point of 2016, this now looks unlikely as the gap between the larger ecommerce countries and the smaller ones is not diminishing. However there is no doubt that most of the countries surveyed will achieve online market shares of at least 18%, the only question is the timescale and no longer whether it will occur.

Online shares of retail trade 2014-2016 (forecast)

US Online Spending 2014-2015

US online spending was $349.20 bn [215.38 bn] in 2015 and should reach $399.48 bn [246.39 bn] in 2016, an increase of 14.4%.

If we use the same definition of retail sales that is used in Europe then the US online share of retail (ie sales of goods) was 12.7% in 2015 and is expected to be 13.9% in 2016. The European online market share was 8.4% in 2015 and 9.4% is projected for 2016. There has been a lot of discussion in the US about when the online share would break through the 10% barrier (and we have contributed to that) but this has already been achieved if one eliminates the broader non-retail merchandise from the US definition of the retail industry as is already done in Europe.

The US is still the leader in online retailing compared to Europe. With a similar population to the eight countries surveyed, 62.3% of the US public were eshoppers compared to 49.6% in Europe in 2015. Every online shopper in Europe spent an average of 820.05 [$1329.54 or 970.47] in 2015 compared to 1119.79 [$1815.52 or 1325.20] in the US.

Mobile ecommerce

Many retailers already report that up to 70%-80% of website browsing occurs through customers using mobile devices, both smartphones and tablets. But in 2015 only 20% of online spending in Europe occurred using mobiles, although the proportions in the UK were 28.6%, Germany 27.7% and 26.2% in Sweden. However in online retailing, the major growth in online sales is the result of higher sales via mobiles (+88% in Europe) with only 6% of online growth being made using PCs and laptops. Further results for mobile retailing will be given later this year.

Effect on Traditional Stores

The growth of online sales at the current rate will inevitably reduce the market for traditional shops. By the time that online sales represent 5% or more of domestic retailing then the continued growth of online retailers is likely to come at the expense of conventional stores. In Europe as a whole, online retailers in 2016 are expanding by 16.7% in a fairly stagnant retail market, hence sales through stores are expected to diminish by -1.5% overall this year, and as much as -4.3% in the UK. The comparable figure in the U.S. is -2.2%. This is creating major strategic issues for store-based retailers. For policymakers, the results will be fewer physical stores and reduced employment in this key sector.

Change in Sales of Store-based Retailers

Stages in Market Development

We think there are three stages in online market development and business strategy:

Maturity - market share of 9.5% or above, 55%+ of the population are internet shoppers, rapidly developing mobile use (15%+ of all online in 2014), multiple online providers throughout each sector and 12+ purchases pa by each shopper.

Mid range - market shares of 6.5% to 9.5%, a wide range of suppliers, more than ten purchases pa per shopper, 45% are online shoppers and a smaller mobile use.

Immature - online market share below 6.5%, patchy takeup (regionally or demographically) of online retailing, fewer than ten purchases pa, and some trade sectors are comparatively less developed.

Mature markets, such as the US, the UK and Germany, are expected to grow more slowly, recruiting a percentage of non users but mainly growing because existing eshoppers place more orders or buy more expensive items. However online growth in Germany is continuing at a very high rate, so maturity is a tendency rather than a scientific law.

Mid range markets, such as France, The Netherlands and Sweden, will grow by recruiting more users as well as persuading shoppers to buy more frequently.

Immature markets, such as Italy, Spain and Poland, have to overcome structural issues in the quality of their telecommunication networks, but can be expected to develop rapidly by increasing the number of eshoppers in their population and then inducing them to purchase more regularly.

Are the statistics right?


The statistics are problematic as state statistical research organisations often tend to underestimate the size of the sector, because conventionally they are best at collecting information from companies that own retail shops. There can be problems in determining online sales from abroad, because UK statistical authorities may not be fully aware of their scale, foreign firms may not wish to comply fully with UK statistical needs, and sampling may be problematic as a result of rapid sector change. There are important issues about whether to include mail order when it is mainly online and how to account for partial online ordering such as click and collect. Other issues include the definition of 'retail' where US authorities seem to combine food services (cafes and restaurants) within retail, which is not the case in Europe. However in Europe and the US fuel for cars is normally included as 'retail' but as this is not the retailing of goods and would be difficult to sell over the web we have attempted to adjust our estimates to take account of this.

Please note that our figures are based on a strict definition of retailing, a term which is increasingly used in a loose fashion to mean 'anything relating to consumers', such as 'retail banking' or 'retail travel agents'. Including holidays, tickets, travel, motor fuel and insurance as 'retail' is all very well but it will usually produce figures that are three times higher than those provided here. So who is right and who is wrong? The CRR is interested in how the retail industry develops over time rather than how or whether different industries like tickets and travel operate online. Hence we use the strict definition of retail and do not study travel, restaurants, tickets, transport etc because it ain't the retail industry.

Previous Reports