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Ralf Ohlhausen, Business Development Director at PPRO Group questions whether UK e-commerce merchants know their Soforts from their iDEALs in their quest to boost sales across Western Europe

Western Europe is thriving, thanks to the region’s highly developed banking infrastructure and the growing maturity of the market.  It’s home to 19 different countries that boast an average annual income of around $55,000 (compared to a world average of below $10,000) as well as a wealth of diverse cultures and payment methods to match.  Western Europe’s more sophisticated and established banking infrastructure enabled shoppers to purchase an incredible $475.7 billion worth of goods and services online last year.

There is so much opportunity in this region for UK merchants to boost their cross border sales, but only if they understand that the payment culture in each country across Western Europe is very different.  Of course, credit cards are still a common way to pay for goods and services online, but they are not equally favoured in all countries as alternative payment methods are becoming more and more prevalent across this region.

A fountain of ‘payments’ knowledge

It’s so crucial that UK merchants understand the alternative payment options across this region.  As such, we’ve taken the liberty of producing a comprehensive global alternative payments guide, which sheds some light on how differently shoppers behave at the online checkout in each country.

Take the Netherlands, for example, around 65 per cent of all transactions are carried out using the iDEAL online banking system.  German and Austrian shoppers on the other hand prefer payment on account, via direct debit and PayPal while in Finland around half of online purchases are made by online bank transfer, and almost one in five online transactions in Portugal are paid by offline bank transfer.

What’s clear from our research is that Western Europeans are sticking with their preferred local established payment methods and providers such as Sofort, enter cash and iDEAL rather than paying for goods with their credit or debit cards, or even embracing newer payments methods such as e-wallets (only 19 per cent of Western Europeans use e-wallets).  The exception to this is that nearly a quarter of Norwegians (23 per cent, so higher than the Western Europe average) use e-wallets to pay online for goods.  The Swiss, however, are dismissing digital wallets in favour of paying by credit cards, and are big spenders, with the average online shopper spending $3,190 year. These are all key factors for UK e-commerce merchants to consider before selling cross-border in this region.

Mobile optimisation is key

It’s also incredibly important for these merchants to ensure that every online customer touchpoint is mobile-optimised as smartphone penetration is high across Western Europe.  In fact, 70 per cent of Western Europeans now own a smartphone, considerably higher than the global average of 42 per cent.  Any UK e-commerce merchant preparing to enter the Nordics or Dutch markets especially need to ensure their online check-out procedure is mobile-optimised, as 77 per cent of Norwegians and 76 per cent of Swedes and Dutch people currently own a smartphone that will be used frequently for online purchases.

Looking to warmer climes? 

UK merchants shouldn’t dismiss credit and debit cards though as 87 per cent of Spanish online shoppers favour these payment methods. The same goes for the Swedes, with 53 per cent preferring to pay with this method but also useful to bear in mind is a growing popular alternative payment method, Klarna, a Swedish company that allows shoppers to pay for their purchases through online banking, invoices and installments.

Thanks to the European Single Market, consumers are very comfortable with making cross border purchases online, so the opportunity for UK e-commerce merchants to succeed across the channel in Western Europe is huge, but local knowledge and engagement are crucial.

Readers who would like a clearer insight into the 12 biggest markets in this region and the characteristics and behaviour of its 247 million online shoppers please click here.