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The paradoxical fragmentation of the European Union e-commerce market

The European Union (excluding the United Kingdom) is the world's third-largest e-commerce market, with total online retail sales of $412 billion a year.

Amazon and eBay lead the market in continental Europe, as they do in the U.S. and the U.K. In addition to them, there is a huge selection of European online marketplaces. But while Amazon and eBay sell throughout Europe as a whole, most European marketplaces focus on just one country or a small number of closely linked countries (e.g. Germany and Austria or Portugal and Spain). The only clear exception is Zalando, a marketplace with sales in 20 European countries. Besides this German marketplace, there are open marketplaces like Finnish Fruugo or American BestBuy, but they do not have as much success as Zalando.

It seems that when it comes to e-commerce, much of the market in Europe is divided along old geographic and language lines, despite a single currency, open borders and thousands of common rules.

These differences extend to the overall use of online shopping in Europe. In Europe as a whole, online shopping has a 12% share of total retail sales. In Germany, the figure is 15.9%, but in Italy it is only 3.7%, less than a quarter of Germany's share. Online shopping is widespread in some European countries, but differences in payment systems, delivery networks, culture and language mean that other countries lag far behind.

Amazon is the leading online marketplace in Europe with 1.1 billion visits per month. Europe and the U.S. are similar in terms of GDP and population, but Amazon traffic in the U.S. is more than double that of Amazon in Europe, about 2.3 billion visits per month. This reflects Amazon's larger share of the U.S. e-commerce market and greater competition in Europe.

eBay is the second largest online marketplace in Europe, but its traffic in Europe is only 35% that of Amazon. Despite its early popularity in Europe, eBay is far behind Amazon in every major country.

The first surprise on this list for those unfamiliar with European e-commerce is the Polish marketplace Allegro. Poland is now a mature economy after rapid growth over the past thirty years. Allegro has grown with it, and now has over 200 million visits per month, 96% of which come from Poland.

The other six companies in the top ten are largely focused on individual countries, or at most two or three countries with close geographic and historical ties. First, focuses on the Netherlands and Belgium. and Fnac are French companies and sell mostly to consumers in France. Otto is a German retailer and online marketplace. Finally, eMAG is focused on Eastern Europe, particularly Romania.

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