Belgium loses 2 billion to foreign webshops – Companies

The Belgian spent an average of 1,015 euros on online purchases in 2021, good for a turnover of almost 12 billion euros. But a significant part of it flows to our neighboring countries. “It is not yet too late for Belgian e-commerce, but we must act quickly,” said the Central Council for Business.

Whether it concerns washing powder, clothes or plane tickets: More and more Belgians are finding their way to online shops. In 2021, 11.7 billion euros were spent online, a year earlier it was only 8.8 billion. The Central Council for Business (CRB) has calculated this on the basis of data from Ecommerce Europe and Eurostat in a report on the challenges for Belgian e-commerce, which Trends could see. The research fits into the ‘E-commerce strategy 4 Belgium’ which Prime Minister Alexander De Croo (Open Vld) wants to implement. In 2015, our online consumption was just under 4.1 billion euros.

Whether it concerns washing powder, clothes or plane tickets: More and more Belgians are finding their way to online shops. In 2021, 11.7 billion euros were spent online, a year earlier it was only 8.8 billion. The Central Council for Business (CRB) has calculated this on the basis of data from Ecommerce Europe and Eurostat in a report on the challenges for Belgian e-commerce, which Trends could see. The research fits into the ‘E-commerce strategy 4 Belgium’ which Prime Minister Alexander De Croo (Open Vld) wants to implement. In 2015, our online spending amounted to just under 4.1 billion euros. The strong increase is due, among other things, to the online stores’ heyday during the shutdowns. On the other hand, CRB also sees a mindset among consumers, new technologies are changing purchasing behavior and there is greater trust in the security of websites and online payments and the protection of personal data. Our neighboring countries are European champions in e-commerce. The Netherlands has Bol.com and Coolblue. With Zalando, Germany has possibly the largest online clothing range worldwide. The low prices and free shipping make it a formidable competitor to Belgian online providers who have to charge higher prices. “Although sales are improving, the Belgian economy remains the big loser in the online shopping battle,” says CRB. “On average, Belgians buy fewer products and services online than residents of our neighboring countries and the rest of Europe. Where the Belgian spent an average of 1,015 euros online in 2021, the German spent 1,288 and the French even 1,909 euros.” CRB shows that, on average, Belgians buy much more on international webshops than the European average. These purchases are at the expense of Belgian companies and therefore cause turnover to flow abroad. According to the industry association Becommerce, it is about 1.79 billion euros, the industry association Safeshops estimates the loss at 1.9 billion euros and Cross-Border Europe at 2.29 billion euros. The current value will be somewhere in the middle, around 2 billion euros. The biggest competition on the Belgian market comes from the Netherlands. The ecosystem is simply in better shape. The monolingual country can build more manageable websites, households and businesses are more familiar with digital technologies, digital connectivity is better and there is a highly developed and advanced ICT sector. In addition, our northern neighbors have ‘first mover advantage’, which means that the country immediately drew the map of the online stores. The large investments in the development of those platforms pay off twice as much. It is very difficult for Belgium to get its own Zalando or Bol.com. Our national sales market is too small to sell the necessary quantities that can finance the conquest of international markets. But several smaller webshops must be able to grow. Micro and small businesses are currently overrepresented on the market. They fail to generate enough revenue to develop their business and grow enough to hire staff. A partial explanation is that small businesses appear to be disproportionately affected by obstacles that hinder the commitment to adopt e-commerce. It is more difficult for them to create a logistics structure adapted to e-commerce, and the costs of organizing the webshop and marketing can be quite high. Access to finance and, more generally, very high levels of debt appear to be two of the biggest barriers facing SMEs to start and develop their online activities, but according to the CBR, these factors are not sufficient to explain Belgium’s lagging behind. The social partners will soon investigate what the challenges are. Does it concern consumer demand, supply, rather practical problems with regard to delivery, production or design of the webshop? It is not yet too late for Belgian e-commerce, but action must be taken, says CRB. They see room for improvement for online payments, shopping on social media, showrooming (customization and buying in online stores, ed.), webrooming (researching online and buying in the physical store, ed.), big data and artificial intelligence CRB can regain Belgium’s online market share and thus avoid a turnover flight if the Belgian webshops focus much more on the latest trends and innovations in e-commerce.

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