Travel and food drive Belgian e-commerce growth, but...

Online spending in Belgium rose significantly in the first half of 2021, as the travel and events sector returns to normal. Food spending is also on the rise, but the parcel delivery sector is experiencing a slowdown. 


Travel and events

In total, all Belgians together spent 5.56 billion euros on online purchases in the first half of this year. That is a considerable increase correlated to the first half of last year, when spending amounted to 5.1 billion, according to the Market Monitor by Belgian e-commerce branch organisation BeCommerce.


"The Covid pandemic and the associated store closures created an additional boost", says BeCommerce director Sofie Geeroms. "It is nice to see this trend continue as normal life resumes. For example: last quarter, 37 % of all online spending went to services - such as travel and events." That category was hit last year by the coronavirus restrictions, but is now experiencing a recovery. The three largest categories remain unchanged: airline tickets, tickets for days out and events, and travel packages.


Food grows but remains small

The 'food/near food' category (food items, household products, pet food) saw a 51 % increase in sales in the second quarter compared to the same period last year. Its expenditure share doubled, from 2 % in 2020 to 4 % in 2021. Geeroms sees a lot of growth potential in this area: "Compared to other European countries, Belgian food retailers are still falling behind."


The convenience of ordering from home remains the main reason for shopping online, while shipping costs continue to be the main barrier for half of the consumers. A quarter of the purchases are made on smartphones: this mainly concerns smaller purchases and impulse purchases. Desktops and especially laptops (38 % of all online purchases) are used for more expensive purchases.


Bancontact continues to be the most popular means of payment, accounting for four out of ten online purchases. Credit cards are still in second place, but are consumers' first choice for more expensive purchases. Number three is PayPal, good for one tenth of the online expenditures. One third used PayPal at least once in the past quarter.


"No longer an explosive increase"

Parcel delivery companies, however, paint a different picture: they notice that the big rush of the 2020 Covid year is now over. "Volumes are still slightly higher compared to 2019, the year before Covid, but there is no longer an explosive increase with double growth figures like in 2020", Frank Jahn of DPD Belux told Belgian newspaper De Standaard. Bpost experienced a weak summer and had expected a more substantial growth. PostNL is the only one stating that the previously achieved growth remains stable.


This evolution is not illogical: consumers bought just about everything online during the lockdowns, but now they have 'rediscovered' the physical stores. Moreover, people are spending money again in the hospitality industry and at events. E-commerce turnover is expected to pick up in the autumn, driven by the end-of-year period and promotions such as Black Friday and Singles' Day.