Het is onomstotelijk bewezen: Albert Heijn is klaar voor België. Op 15 oktober jongstleden werd de oprichtingsakte voor Albert Heijn België N.V. ondertekend. Ondertussen zijn ook de exacte locatie van het hoofdkantoor en de eerste winkel bekend, ondanks de geladen sfeer van absolute geheimhouding die bij Ahold heerst. De puzzelstukjes vallen beetje bij beetje allemaal in elkaar. Nu wordt het voor Ahold – en concurrenten – wel heel concreet.
E-commerce is one of the most modern and interesting branches of industry in the European Union. Quite surprisingly, its growth is remarkably faster in countries that already have an important e-commerce market, and virtually non-existent in countries without a significant e-commerce market.
That is the most interesting conclusions in a recent report ordered by the European Parliament on e-commerce in the EU. Other topics include the limiting effect of fear for fraud on the number of people engaging in internet purchases and the reasons for the huge difference in the popularity of cross-border purchases.
If there is one key factor for the success of e-commerce in a country, it is the presence of... easy internet access. That might sound obvious, but is nonetheless worth keeping in mind. Sweden leads the European way in the number of internet users (91% of all citizens), Luxembourg and the Netherlands follow very closely (90%). Belgium ranks ninth (78%), while the average for the whole Union is 69%. Greece (44%), Bulgaria (43%) and Romania (36%) are the three countries where less than half of the population is an internet user.
When the broadband criterion is added, Sweden remains at the top (with 86% of Swedes accessing internet via broadband), before Denmark (83%) and Finland (81%). Belgium and the Netherlands are fourth and fifth, just missing out of the 80% mark but staying well clear of the EU average of 59%. The three worst performers are no surprise: Greece (39%), Bulgaria (34%) and Romania (20%). The only EU powerhouse to miss the 50% mark is Italy, where only 42% of the citizens enjoy broadband internet access.
Looking at the number of citizens who have actually bought something online (measured from October 2009 to October 2010), the results are very – but not exactly – similar. The frontrunners (each with about two thirds of their population) are Denmark, Sweden and the Netherlands – but they are joined by the UK. Same story for the bottom group, where the three expected countries (Romania and Bulgaria with about 5%, Greece on 12%) are joined by Lithuania. The EU average is 40%, which is slightly higher than Belgium on 38%.
This number has doubled since 2005, according to the report, but in an unexpected way: strong growth in countries where e-commerce was already going well, almost no growth in the countries that were in 2005 – and still are in 2010 – almost undiscovered land for internet retailers. Surprisingly, the correlation in this graph is almost as strong as the one between e-commerce and internet access: the strongest e-commerce growths were in Sweden, Denmark, the UK, the Netherlands and Germany; a zero-growth or just slightly better was achieved in Romania, Bulgaria, Greece, Lithuania and Portugal. There were two major deviations: France (the largest e-commerce market in 2005, dropped to seventh in 2007) grew slower than expected, while Sweden (from fifteenth to fourth thanks to a 50% growth in five years) went the other way.
Not mentioned in the report however is an even stronger connection between the number of people buying goods or services online, and the percentage of advertising money spent on internet ads. The UK leads the way with 27%, while the same familiar sounding names Denmark, Sweden and Netherlands form the rest of the front runners, all scoring above 20%. Belgium scored 11% - comfortably in the average group – and Romania holds the wooden spoon with less than 2%. Romania and penultimate Slovakia (3%) were the only two countries to saw the online ad's market share drop compared to the year before, while Greece witnessed a 49% rise (!) to leave these two far behind.
The second focus in the EP report was how many people engaged in cross-border purchases using the internet. Only 23% of the people who bought something online, did that from a seller based in another EU member state – meaning that about three quarter of internet purchases were made either from a store in the same country, or from (mostly) American sources.
Five countries saw over half of their online purchases coming from other European countries, and all of them were small(er) countries whose languages are also spoken in larger neighbouring countries. Malta leads the way with over 90%, closely followed by Luxembourg and Cyprus (both over 80%). Two larger countries that still fit the description also hop over the 50% bar: Austria and Belgium; a third – Ireland – just passing underneath.
Conversely, the worst achieving countries (15% or worse) have either no other country with the same language (Poland, Czech Republic, Hungary) or are the 'bigger brother' of one of the top countries (Germany and the UK). It is noteworthy that only seven member states perform worse than the EU average. Despite their supposed chauvinism, France (near 30%) are by far the most foreign-oriented of the EU powerhouses.
The report worryingly states that only 14% of EU companies sell goods or services online, a number which is not on the rise. Belgium is the surprising leader in this chart, with 26% of Belgian companies also having an e-commerce branch. Sweden and Denmark follow closely, which is not the case for – again – Bulgaria, where a disappointing 3% of companies have a web shop to offer. Italy, Latvia and Romania again form Bulgaria's company in the bottom part of the list.
The report continues to reach a number of interesting, and sometimes surprising, conclusions. One of the most eye-catching is this: many people think that an internet market is good for consumers, cutting out middle men (such as travel agents) and offering large quantities of interesting offers. Even when leaving the higher fraud risk out of the equation, the report concludes that this is not necessarily the case. An important drawback of the internet is the huge flow of information, also for (interesting) offers. This makes proper market research either very time-consuming (and expensive) or even completely impossible.
Proper market research is also hindered by the process of “drip-pricing”: the system in which the price for a product as it appears on the front page is gradually raised through extra costs and taxes. Airlines for example often use this method to raise the base price by adding luggage costs, airport taxes, transaction costs etc. While not strictly illegal, this is a direct offence against open market rules. It works however, following the psychological “loss aversion” theory: upon seeing the first cheap price, the customer considers the product as already his and to avoid losing it, (s)he is ready to pay a lot of extra costs.
The theory of disappearing middlemen is wrong too. While certain intermediaries have almost completely disappeared, a new set of them has emerged: think of price comparison sites, search engines, social network sites to read and post user reviews, internet service providers etc. The most important new intermediaries in e-commerce are those who provide infrastructure and those who assist in the choice, either objectively or biased (e.g. sponsored links).
Advertisement is, according to the report, a very important part of e-commerce: not only in helping existing, valuable sites to remain free of charge for its users/readers, but also for brands to create a positive and trustworthy name for themselves. One of the most important barriers for consumers to buy online, is the fear for fraud. Goods are not tangible and salespeople can not be seen: e-commerce involves a lot of trust. Research has shown however that advertisement is an important factor in creating a positive image, even if consumers know that an ad is a company's own, biased message.
Building on data from Europe's statistical service Eurostat, the report finds other barriers too, ranging from concerns about lack of trust (26%), lack of security (64%) or lack of IT-skills (16%). 12% has not engaged in e-commerce because they have no payment card, whereas 62% “prefers to shop in person”. This lack of security is largely fed with actual problems: only one percent reported to really have had problems in this area.
Belgians appear to be the luckiest e-commerce users: they both lead the list of countries with the least experience with trouble (11%, compared to the EU average of 17%) and the list of countries with the highest satisfaction in complaint handling (36% “very satisfied”, compared to the average of 21%). The Dutch find themselves comfortably in the middle, while Romania and Bulgaria are far worse off.
The most important barrier for companies not to engage in cross-border e-commerce is the complex legal situation: under the European rules, a lot of different national and sub-national legal systems exist. The multitude of different languages is also a barrier, both when setting up a website and when dealing with complaints. Payment methods might also be very different from one country to another, causing even more trouble for international e-commerce.
The report ends with a number of recommendations towards the EU, especially concerning harmonisation of legislation to create a more integrated single market, improving consumer awareness of the legislation to protect them, strengthening support for businesses who want to participate in e-commerce and restricting “potentially abusive pricing practices” such as drip-pricing.
Belgian Bricoalliance is building a DIY network throughout Europe: its latest member, the Italian chain Self, lifts the number of member chains to nine and the total turnover over two billion euro.
UPS has acquired Belgian delivery service Kiala for an undisclosed amount, in order to “broaden UPS's service portfolio for business-to-consumer deliveries.” Kiala delivers to 7.000 collection points in every possible kind of shop (ranging from video rental stores over convenience stores to gas stations) in Belgium, France, Luxembourg, the Netherlands and Spain.
Groupon breidt steeds verder uit in België. Nu bijna alle grote steden door Groupon gedekt worden, is het vooral zoeken naar een manier om alle aanbieders een kans te geven. Om het voor retailers gemakkelijker te maken een promotieactie aan te bieden via Groupon, heeft de site eigen Groupon Stores in het leven geroepen.
Met de Stores wil Groupon zijn positie als lokaal marketingforum versterken. Het lokale aspect staat inderdaad centraal in het concept. Groupon biedt internetgebruikers de mogelijkheid zich te groeperen om kortingsbonnen te bedingen voor uitgaans- en ontspanningsactiviteiten in hun eigen stad: een gastronomisch diner, een uitgebreide wellnessbehandeling, een knipbeurt, een yogasessie, noem maar op.
Gebruikers van de site schrijven zich gratis in om in een bepaalde stad een dienst gemeenschappelijk aan te kopen. Als er voldoende belangstellenden zijn, gaat de deal door, en ontvangt de gebruiker een bon die hij vervolgens kan gebruiken bij de handelaar.
Ook voor de handelaar biedt dit concept nieuwe troeven. In tegenstelling tot conventionele promotiekanalen, is bij deze vorm van lokale marketing de wervingskost voor elke nieuwe klant immers op voorhand gekend.
Het concept kent reeds een enorm succes in de VS en in de rest van Europa. Er gebeuren tienduizenden gemeenschappelijke aankopen per dag en Groupon heeft in het buitenland een lange rij geïnteresseerde handelaars. Sinds de start in België begin juni heeft de Groupon beweging tienduizenden aanhangers gevonden in ons land.
De deals die worden aangeboden zijn zeer divers, maar hebben steeds een korting van 50% tot 90% op de retailprijs. In deze financieel moeilijkere tijden helpt Groupon consumenten hun budget te beheren. Of het stimuleert juist aankopen die de zuinige consument anders in deze tijden achterwege zou laten. Niks creëert impulsbehoeften beter dan de belofte van fikse, eenmalige kortingen.
Om te kunnen profiteren van de aanbiedingen volstaat het om zich gratis in te schrijven op de site. Op de welkomstpagina wordt steeds de meest recente deal per stad getoond, samen met andere noodzakelijke informatie, zoals het aantal personen dat de deal reeds kocht, het minimum aantal personen dat de deal dient te kopen zodat de deal doorgaat en de tijd die rest om op het aanbod in te gaan.
De internetgebruikers kunnen ook communiceren via diverse sociale media kanalen. De aanbiedingen voor een bepaalde stad worden via een specifieke nieuwsbrief, alsook via Facebook en Twitter pagina’s, verspreid en becommentarieerd.
De Groupon Stores worden op hun beurt in het leven geroepen om het de aanbieders van promoties gemakkelijker te maken. Het is een soort zelfbedieningssysteem waardoor bedrijven eigenhandig hun acties voor Groupon kunnen plaatsen. Klanten kunnen dankzij de Groupon Stores een bepaalde retailer volgen en steeds die zijn promoties zien.
Op Twitter en Facebook, evenals via de Groupon Stores, kan een aanbieder worden gevolgd. Op die manier verhoogt de loyaliteit van klanten. Het is ook de bedoeling dat consumenten gestimuleerd worden nog vaker gebruik te maken van zowel een bedrijf als van Groupon.
Aangezien de Groupon Stores een zelfbedieningsysteem is, zullen aanbieders sneller hun aanbieding tot bij de consument kunnen krijgen. Voorheen moest er een lange procedure van onderhandelingen met Groupon worden ondergaan alvorens men zijn promotie op de site kreeg. De wachttijden liepen soms op tot maar liefst zes maanden.
Carrefour has announced very disappointing results about the first half of 2011 – even after issuing a profit warning earlier. Impatient shareholders continue to build up the pressure on the French supermarket chain.
Carrefour's main problem is its home market, where it still earns 44% of its turnover. Mainly due to problems there, their semi-annual profits drop from 989 million euro last year to 760 million now (-23%). Turnover did rise however, to 44.6 billion (+2.7%), but the results of the second quarter were worse. “May and June were difficult months”, said financial director Pierre Bouchut. “We will have to bear the consequences of their bad figures all year long”.
The supermarket giant admits they will have to focus on sharp prices in order to regain a part of their home market. “Our permanent prices are to high”, admits Bouchut.
Belgium is one of the very scarce positive points for Carrefour, as turnover grew 6.7% to 2.04 billion euro for the first six months of this year. An important note here is, that last year was a bad year with huge cost cuts, store closings and the subsequent social disaster. Notwithstanding the turnover rise, Carrefour's market share dropped to 22.7% - getting further and further behind the two market leaders Delhaize and Colruyt.
Judging by the figures, the reorganisation was a success – adding 10.1% to Carrefour's Belgian hypermarkets' turnover. This success was particularly strong in the new Carrefour Planet hypermarkets. Chairman Lars Olofsson is indeed counting on the Planet to save his job, as discounter Dia's flotation did not produce enough money to please demanding shareholders like LVMH and Colony Capital. They are still upset and embittered with the cancellation of the Brazilian plans (merger with Pão de Açúcar) and the delayed sale of Carrefour's real estate branch.
Not even one year after opening its Belgian headquarters in the centre of Antwerp, Albert Heijn has already moved into a new – and far larger – building. The Belgian branch of the Dutch holding now resides at 1026 Bredabaan in Antwerp's northerly suburb of Schoten.
“Our first headquarters in Borzestraat, really in Antwerp's medieval centre, were difficult to reach”, says Corné Mulders, general manager at Albert Heijn Belgium. The new building, right next to the motorway exit Merksem/Schoten, is easily accessible from all directions – including Antwerp city centre and the Netherlands.
“It is difficult to imagine a better location for Albert Heijn”, says RetailDetail's own Jorg Snoeck. The Bredabaan is also one of Antwerp's most important shopping streets, soaked in a retail atmosphere.” Still, this building will not be turned into a shop, assures Mulders: “It will be only our Belgian headquarters”.
The move to a bigger building is a sign that AH has huge plans for Belgium, but only for the Dutch-speaking part. If the Dutch supermarket had plans for Wallonia as well, this would have been an excellent opportunity to move its headquarters further south.
Dutch retail chain Albert Heijn will open its second Belgian store in Stabroek on October 26th.RetailDetail had already announced the location in March (link in Dutch): like the first Belgian AH in Brasschaat, the new one is owned by Nathalie and Marco Van Ende.
Just like Brasschaat, Stabroek is located between Antwerp and the Dutch border, an area where many Dutch people have settled. The new store resides in an almost completely renovated complex that also holds 20 flats and retail space for chains like Hubo, Zeeman and Standaard Boekhandel. Albert Heijn started its international operation in Belgium in March, with a move to Germany set to follow in 2012. The first Belgium store attracted a lot of attention from the media, but local competitors say many customers have already returned to their normal stores for their shopping.
Delhaize released disappointing figures for the fourth quarter of 2011 today, bringing the complete results for the year down as well. The group has announced to close 146 stores (in South-eastern Europe and the US, not in Belgium), thereby axing an estimated 5000 jobs.
While their simultaneity is just a coincidence, the two recent buzzes about the famous Belgian Westvleteren beer were destined to strengthen each other. On the one hand, leading beer review website RateBeer announced that the Westvleteren 12 had returned to the top spot in the “World's best beer” ranking. On the other hand, Westvleteren announced it would temporarily break with its traditions and export 420,000 bottles of the very same beer to eight countries.
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