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E-commerce in the UK and the European Union

The UK and other member states of the European Union (EU 28) publish various statistics relating to e-commerce: the trading of goods or services over computer networks such as the internet. This short story compares the use of e-commerce in the UK by both businesses and consumers to other European countries. Estimates of the values of e-commerce sales are presented at current prices. Therefore, the effects of inflation have not been removed so comparison of values over time should be made with caution.

How do online purchases by individuals in the UK compare to the EU?

In 2014 the proportion of individuals in the UK who had made a purchase online in the last 12 months was 79%, higher than any other European Union (EU) country. This has increased notably over the past decade, rising from 44% in 2005. Scandanavian countries reported similar figures to the UK in 2014, with Denmark, Norway and Sweden all reporting that at least 75% of individuals had made an online purchase within the last 12 months. Other major EU economies reported lower percentages, with Germany at 70%, France at 62% and Italy reporting just 22%.

Figure 1: Percentage of individuals who made their last purchase online in previous 12 months, EU, 2014

Figure 1: Percentage of individuals who made their last purchase online in previous 12 months, EU, 2014
Source: Eurostat

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How important is e-commerce to businesses in the UK and EU?

E-commerce has become an important source of revenue for businesses in the UK, accounting for 20% of UK business turnover in 20131, an increase from 16% in 2009. This is higher than the EU average of 15%, and places the UK as the third joint highest in the EU, behind the Republic of Ireland (52%) and the Czech Republic (29%), and joint with Hungary (20%), as illustrated in Figure 2.

A proportion of e-commerce relates to website sales; this part of e-commerce accounted for 7% of UK business turnover in 2013, which is the joint second highest proportion in the EU with Estonia and Sweden, as illustrated in Figure 2. The country with the highest proportion was the Republic of Ireland, with 25% of business turnover accounted for by website sales.

Figure 2: Proportion of businesses’ turnover accounted for by e-commerce and website sales, 2013 – Top 15 EU countries and EU 28 average

Figure 2: Proportion of businesses’ turnover accounted for by e-commerce and website sales, 2013 – Top 15 EU countries and EU 28 average
Source: Eurostat

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This could be due in part to a number of factors; such as UK government intitiatives to promote e-commerce and the “digital agenda”, alongside potential growth in other areas of the economy in the countries overtaken by Britain, resulting in the percentage of turnover accounted for specifically by e-commerce falling. The picture has changed somewhat since 2009, with the UK following a similar trend to the EU as a whole in terms of an increase in the proportion of e-commerce turnover in relation to total turnover. However, this is not seen for all countries, with Germany, which had a higher proportion than the UK in 2009, seeing a fall in e-commerce turnover as a proportion of total turnover over the last 5 years (Figure 3).

Figure 3: Percentage of total business turnover from e-commerce in selected EU countries, 2009 to 2013

Figure 3: Percentage of total business turnover from e-commerce in selected EU countries, 2009 to 2013
Source: Eurostat

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What proportions of UK and EU businesses employ IT specialists?

The proportion of UK businesses employing IT specialists was 24% in 2013, which was above the EU average of 20%, along with Greece and Austria. EU countries with higher proportions of businesses employing IT specialists included the Republic of Ireland, Finland and Denmark (Figure 4).

Figure 4: Percentage of businesses that employed IT specialists, 2013 – Top 15 EU countries and EU 28 average

Figure 4: Percentage of businesses that employed IT specialists, 2013 – Top 15 EU countries and EU 28 average
Source: Eurostat

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What are the perceived obstacles to website sales?

There are a number of obstacles that can limit a business from selling via a website – the most notable across all EU member states is that the goods and services are not suitable. In the UK (in 2012), 23% of businesses that made web sales were impacted by this reason; this is higher than the EU average of 20%, but considerably lower than countries such as the Netherlands (40%) and Belgium (36%). That said, the UK compares favourably to the EU average for other obstacles related to payments being made (14% for the UK compared with 11% for the EU); ICT security or data protection (10% for the UK compared with 7% for the EU) and legal framework (9% for the UK compared with 7% for the EU) (Figure 5).

Figure 5: Obstacles that limit or prevent the business from selling via a website, EU, 2012

Figure 5: Obstacles that limit or prevent the business from selling via a website, EU, 2012
Source: Eurostat

Notes:

  1. * - No data available.
  2. Please click on the image to view a larger version.

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Background notes

An e-commerce transaction is defined2 as “the sale or purchase of goods or services, conducted over computer networks by methods specifically designed for the purpose of receiving or placing of orders”. It is important to note, under this definition, that “the goods or services are ordered by those methods, but the payment and the ultimate delivery of the goods or services do not have to be conducted online”.

The source of the information is the Eurostat website. The latest UK business survey data for the 2013 reference year were published in November 2014. Eurostat publish this data as 2014, referring to the date that they receive the data.

The Eurostat estimates include adults aged 16 to 74 years. The coverage of the UK is a subset of the Great Britain estimates published in the 2015 Internet Access Households and Individuals publication which covers all adults (aged 16 years and over). Estimates for Northern Ireland are collected solely for Eurostat and are combined with the Great Britain estimates to produce a UK total.

Estimates of the values of e-commerce sales are presented at current prices.

E-commerce event on the changing shape of business

On 8 October 2015, we will be holding an event called “How e-commerce is changing the shape of business”. This will be held at the BIS Conference Centre, London. The event will feature a range of talks from users, producers and suppliers of e-commerce business statistics, from government, international organisations and business. For more information about the event, or to register your attendance, please email BusinessStatisticsUserConference@bis.gov.uk.

To coincide with this short story, we will also be publishing a further short story entitled “The impact of e-commerce on the UK economy”.

Notes:

1The latest UK business survey data for the 2013 reference year was published in November 2014. Eurostat publish this data as 2014, referring to the date that they receive the data.

 2As defined by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD).

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