In 2020, the outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic led revenues from e-commerce to exceed the €100 billion threshold for the first time in the German-speaking countries of Germany, Austria and Switzerland, according to BEVH, the German E-Commerce and Distance Selling Trade Association. Orders averaging €1,000 were placed by customers in the three countries – which was significantly more than in France, for example, but still considerably less than in the U.K., where around €1,223 per capita were spent online last year.

Inside the DACH region, online growth was strongest in Switzerland. Online revenues increased there by 27.2 percent to the equivalent of €11.84 billion. They were double as high as six years ago. However, a survey taken a few days ago in Switzerland indicated that customers were very happy to do their shopping at physical stores again after a six-week lockdown, using all their senses and engaging in a dialogue with the store personnel.

In England, store traffic was said to have been robust as non-essential brick-and-mortar retail stores were allowed to be open again on April 12. However, online sales of shoes and clothing were up dramatically during the lockdown period in December and January, as compared to a year earlier. In January alone, online sales went by 6 percent overall, but sales of fashion products rose by more than 100 percent.

In Austria, e-commerce generated sales of €8.5 billion last year, up by 17.4 percent. In Germany, it climbed by 14.6 percent to €83.3 billion. Together, the German-speaking markets accounted for one-quarter of the online spending in the U.S. In Italy, a national study by Milan’s Politecnico University calculated that e-commerce grew by 31 percent to €23.4 billion in the country.

A separate study carried out in Spain by Webloyalty showed an increase of around 24 percent for e-commerce in the country since the pandemic struck, reaching an annualized level of €648 per capita. Fashion enjoyed one of the highest increases online. The strongest penetration was found among women in the 45-55 age group.

Sport is ahead of fashion online in Switzerland

The German association also presented some more specific figures for online sales in the fashion sector. They made good progress in Germany, after initial weaknesses: German consumers spent €21.2 billion on clothing and shoes, 13.2 percent more than in the previous year. The Austrian trade association did not provide such detailed information.

In Switzerland, on the other hand, while online sales of shoes and clothing went up by 15 percent, home electronics performed much better, due perhaps in part to remote working. with the digital channel representing 48 percent of all sales in this category, according to GfK and other sources, Sporting goods, furniture and home improvement items recorded growth rates above-average rate of 27.2 percent, too.

The Swiss figures also showed that individual omni-channel retailers enjoyed sales increases of more than 100 percent, while the big online pure players grew by up to 50 percent. Swiss consumers ordered proportionately less merchandise online than before from Germany.

Online retail will remain high

The new consumption trends instigated by the pandemic are expected to have some long-term effects. A report recently conducted by AlixPartners in January indicates that 37 percent of consumers in nine countries around the world plan to buy shoes and clothing more online than in the past. The ratio is highest in China. Involving 70 percent of the respondents, followed by the U.K. with a ratio of 43 percent, Germany at 39 percent, Italy at 31 percent, and the U.S. and Japan, both with a ratio of 29 percent.

Consumers around the world spent $900 billion more online than in the prior year in 2020, according to a report by Mastercard on “recovery insights” for retailers. With a share of 20 percent of total retail sales, e-commerce represented about one-fifth of the total consumption in the retail sector, compared with one-seventh in 2019, said the credit card company, predicting that between 20 and 30 percent of the shift from physical to digital shopping will be permanent. It also found that residents in countries like Italy or Saudi Arabia are making purchases from 33 percent more web stores or marketplaces than before, followed by consumers in Russia and the U.K.

BEVH predicted a few weeks ago that e-commerce will grow by a further 12.5 percent in Germany in 2021, but the growth will likely be higher because of the current extended retail lockdown.

As we see it, physical retail will remain dominant for product categories where the fitting, the visual experience and the sense of touch and others are important. In the sporting goods sector, this means that consumers will probably order more equipment and softgoods over the internet, unless they want to test the products and get the advice of an expert. In general, sporting goods shops offer a mix of softgoods and hardgoods, so consumers will likely prefer to buy both kinds of products at the same physical location.