In 2019, the Belgian e-commerce sector saw its annual turnover grow to 8 billion euros, of which a quarter is achieved in neighbouring countries. Sector organisations see a lot of opportunities - especially in Germany, the arrival of Amazon and even the coronavirus.
Usually, the narrative of Belgian webshops vis-à-vis the neighbouring countries is negative: they lose out on foreign webshops due to the strict Belgian legislation. However, this negativity is not justified, says Greet Dekocker of branch organisation Safeshops.be: "Our annual E-Commerce Barometer shows that Belgian webshops get a quarter of their turnover from foreign shoppers: this very positive signal shows the attraction of Belgium's online retailers."
Belgian webshops export the most to France (28 % of exports), the Netherlands (18 %), the United Kingdom (9.5 %) and Germany (7.5 %). "One of the main strengths of Belgium's webshops is the fact that they are naturally multilingual. Most webshops have multiple language versions from the beginning - especially Dutch and French obviously, but often also English."
Dekocker says that "that pays off, but I think there is still great potential in Germany. Our members tell me that Germany is an attractive market. Moreover, the German market is not yet as popular with British and French e-commerce players, so creating a German version of a web shop is absolutely recommendable and creates a lot of room for growth."
Three transactions per second
The Belgian e-commerce market grew by 17 % to 8.2 billion euros last year, while the number of transactions went up to 85 million (+ 22 %) and the number of online sellers in Belgium went up 20 % to 29,000. "Each day, 13 new webshops open and three transactions take place every second", The House of Marketing's Julie Leppens explains.
The classic debit card is still the means through which more than half of all payments are made: "This payment method has become much more user-friendly through the use of payment apps", Lucas De Dycker of The House of Marketing - co-initiator of the annual E-commerce Barometer - says. "For more substantial amounts, people often prefer credit cards as they offer more guarantees." Both types of cards combined provide almost 95 % of all payments: PayPal and other methods of payment are almost negligible.
"Not afraid of Amazon"
What are Dekocker's views for the Belgian e-commerce in the future? Will the corona crisis and Amazon be a hindrance or a boost for e-commerce? "It can go both ways: the virus can push more people to purchasing online, and research shows that once people have experienced the ease of online shopping, they are often convinced of its use forever. However, the harsh economic reality says that if the worldwide economy struggles, we struggle as well. It is understandable that a store like Coolblue has reduced its marketing and increased prices, as it expects stocks will be hit."
Amazon too can be a major threat and a huge boost for the whole e-commerce sector, Dekocker thinks: "In other countries, we have seen that the arrival of a new marketplace often has a positive effect on other webshops' sales as well: it teaches consumers the habit to start looking for things online. Moreover, a lot of our members think that exporting through Amazon or another marketplace."
The figures are mentioned in the fourth E-commerce Barometer, which plots the Belgian online landscape based on payment providers' transaction data. This means however that it should be taken into account that some figures are a bit distorted: it does not count what Belgian retailers sell on foreign platforms, what Belgians buy abroad or what is ordered through click-and-collect and then paid for at a physical store.
Belgian e-commerce turnover
Number of transactions
Number of Belgian webshops
(Graphics: SafeShops/The House of Marketing)