An Interview with Comeos, Belgian Trade Association

ComeosThe Belgian trade association Comeos recently unveiled the results of its fifth study on e-commerce. The study focused on consumers’ perceptions and habits as regards the Internet retailing and revealed several positive trends for the Internet retailing in Belgium: more consumers are buying on the Internet, more frequently, and are spending more as compared to 2014.

 

Q: One of the most interesting elements in Comeos fifth e-commerce study is that it is fact those same products that Belgians were already accustomed to buy online in the past (apparel, shoes and books) that grew fastest in 2015. How important would you say elements such as habits and trust are in shaping consumers’ attitude towards Internet retailing? Do you see other product categories (electronics, home and gardening, furniture, food) increasing their popularity in the next five years?

A: Those elements are extremely important. Belgian customers have habits and need to trust the online retailer they are buying from. The top 3 factors in shopping decision are previous experience with brand, previous experience with retailer and information.

Online food purchases will increase. Not so many people are buying it now, but those who do already do it often. 244.000 Belgian families buy groceries online. Technical Consumer goods will certainly increase as well.

Q: Lower prices, a wider selection of products and comfort seem to be the main reasons why more and more consumers are turning to the Internet retailing. One of the key points highlighted during the presentation was the increasing relevance of home delivery (as regards both cost and the possibility to choose the place and time of delivery): as they become more confident with the Internet retailing, Belgians are becoming more demanding too. What do you think will be the main growth drivers for the Internet retailing in the future? What about the threats for growth?

A: Retailers must offer convenience, a secure payment solution and hassle-free returns policies, even though they reduce margins.

One of the threats would be to lose the importance of physical stores out of sight, as highlighted in the last question.

Q: It appears from your study that, while Belgians consumers seem more and more confident in buying on-line, they show concerns as regards purchasing goods through mobile devices – trust and issues linked to privacy seem to be their main concerns. How do you see the development of m-commerce in Belgium over the next five years?

A: Consumers nowadays are better informed and more connected than ever before. This trend will get even stronger in the coming years with mobile development.

Even if we’re not there yet, we have to keep in mind that slowly but surely mobile continues to transform how web is integrated into shopping routines. Smartphones are still in lead, but tablets are closing the gap.

Mobile is becoming the first customer touch point with a brand. More and more people first reach their phone when they look for information.

Browsing retailer website has even become the 4th most common activity on tablets and smartphones, after use of search engines, e-mails & social networks.

Q: One of the most sensitive issues regarding the development of the Internet retailing is the impact on store-based retailing. You highlighted, in your study, several trade-offs between the two channels : consumers becoming more demanding in terms of price and selection, thanks to the Internet retailing, when it comes to buying in the physical stores; different attitudes towards shopping: those who visit the physical stores and then buy on-line, and those who visit  first web-shops to get ideas and prices, and then  buy in the physical shops.

A: It’s important to keep the right balance between online and offline, and go for an integrated approach. We estimate that by 2018 44% of total retail sales will be offline sales influenced by the web. And 86% of online customers believe e-commerce to be a long-term strategy, which needs local involvement. Those two have to work together, collaboration is needed.

Belgian customers are pretty loyal. Online shoppers are considered even more loyal. Online shopping can thus also reinforce retailer loyalty.

Q: What should retailers do to maximize these trends? Will multi-channel players, thanks to their physical presence, manage to outperform pure Internet retailing players? How will the increasing popularity affect the way store-based retailing is run (i.e. more pop-stores as a mean of getting visibility)?

A: Retailers should offer an integrated omni-channel customer experience, bridging the gap between digital and physical services. Brick and Mortar sure is not dead but their role will be different. They need to use analytics (such as big data) to boost their effectiveness in improving consumer experience.

 

Sources: Comeos, GfK, SPF Economie, UBA, Deloitte

 

“Comeos represents Belgian commerce & services. Our members are active in 18 sectors and sell to companies or directly to consumers. Together they account for 11,2% of the gdp and employ 400.000 people, making them the biggest employer in the private sector. Comeos provides tailor-made services for its members and wants to encourage dynamic businesses as a knowledge and networking platform.”