As more and more Europeans start shopping online, a shrinking proportion of them purchase items or services from outside their own country, according to the "Report on cross-border e-commerce in the E.U." published by the European Commission late last week.
Over half of Internet users in the E.U.'s three most populous countries, the U.K., France and Germany, made online purchases in 2008, the report said. In the Nordic countries studied (Denmark, Sweden, Norway, Finland and Iceland) the proportion of Internet users who bought products and services online was 91 percent last year.
Between 2006 and 2008 the percentage of European Union consumers buying at least one item over the Internet increased from 27 percent to 33 percent.
The proportion of consumers buying online across borders remained stable at around seven percent, however. As well as the obvious barriers, including geography, language and some lingering regulatory differences, there are also basic issues of trust.
One commonly cited reason for not shopping in another E.U. member state was a lack of confidence, prompted by doubts about delivery, the payment mechanism, after-sales service, or what happens in the event of a complaint.
Consumer affairs commissioner Meglana Kuneva is looking for ways to overcome this lack of confidence.
"Consumers have everything to gain from the Internet. It expands the size of the market they operate in and gives them access to more providers and more choice. It makes it possible to compare products, suppliers and prices on an unprecedented scale," she said.
In September Kuneva will present the results of further research to identify how and where consumers are being prevented from shopping online across the E.U.