43% of individuals in the 27 EU member countries aged 16 to 74 bought something via the Internet in 2011, marking a year-on-year rise of three percentage points. By comparison, 53% of U.S. consumers made a purchase online in 2011, according to Forrester Research Inc.
The U.K. and Sweden jointly led the field among European countries, each with 71% of survey participants purchasing products online, while Germany and France followed with 64% and 53% respectively.
The figures also highlight the potential for growth in less-developed web markets such as Italy (15%), Bulgaria (7%) and Romania (6%), where online shopping remains well below the regional average.
When broken down by sector, 41% of shoppers in Britain bought clothes online in 2011, almost double the European average of 22%. Germany (39%) and Denmark and Finland (both with 36%) lagged only marginally behind in apparel.
The U.K. also led in online sales of groceries, with 19% buying food items from online stores. The European average was much lower at 6%.
In recent years, the expanded access to the Internet for EU households, as well as a growth in the number and variety of online stores, has helped bolster e-commerce in the region, the research finds.
The annual average increase of individual online shoppers between 2008 and 2010 was four percentage points. By 2013, Eurostat expects that 50% of European consumers will be making purchases online across the region.
“These [Eurostat] figures show that e-commerce in Europe is booming,” says Wijnand Jongen, chairman of the Executive Committee of Ecommerce Europe, an association representing companies selling products or services online to consumers in Europe.
Jongen believes, however, that there is still much to be done before European e-commerce reaches its full potential. “There are enormous opportunities, but there are many barriers that still inhibit the growth of e-commerce,” he says. “This is because of the differences in legislation, payments and logistic systems in Europe. What we strive for is more uniformity, so we are not restrained by European digital boundaries. The development has only just begun, but the coming years will be incredibly important.”