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European cross-border e-commerce: The challenge of achieving profitable growth

Accenture study reveals enticing e-commerce opportunity beset by challenges for Europe’s retailers.


In this study on European cross-border e-commerce, conducted by Accenture for the European Retail Round table (ERRT), 146 retailers from six retail sectors and seven countries were surveyed.

The research, which also included in-depth interviews with e-commerce executives from the members of the European Retail Round Table (ERRT), identifies the key challenges and opportunities that traditional retailers face in pursuing cross-border multi-channel strategies to drive profitable growth and satisfy the demands of Europe’s digitally empowered consumer.


The benefits for retailers that can deliver an efficient and appealing cross-border e-commerce offering in Europe are clearly evident. Today 40 percent of European Union shoppers shop online and sales in the 13 largest online markets in the EU are estimated to be €200 billion, growing at just under 20 percent per annum.

Customers empowered by smart phones and social networks leverage the Internet to research price, quality, service and delivery options, while sharing ideas and opinions along the shopping journey.

As many traditional retailers are focusing on making online pay domestically before tackling other European markets, they agree that multi-channel strategies offer the most promising path to profitable growth.

But online retailing incurs many additional cost impacts across core functions, from buying, merchandising and marketing, to planning, store operations and supply chain.

Typically, retailers have launched domestic online shops as a separate channel from their store-based business—which is why many struggle to deliver a consistent, multi-channel shopping experience that Europe’s consumers demand.


Multi-channel spenders are bigger spenders than those who stick to a single channel - one third of respondents said that multi-channel customers spend at least 25 percent more. And one quarter of the respondents believed that they could grow revenues by 25 percent or more if they could sell both online and cross-border in Europe.

To capture this opportunity, retailers are shifting from a defensive position, focused on protecting their market share and capitalizing on their domestic market, to a more offensive position aimed at tackling the cross-border challenge in Europe.

To succeed, traditional retailers are faced with many new multi-channel realities, including:

  • Operating an effective supply chain across multiple channels which requires significant changes to fulfilment set-up and picking processes.

  • Upgrading their returns handling capabilities to accommodate long distance selling and local return policies.

  • Integrating inventory and pricing and enabling a single view of the customer - many retailers are working to build better performance and scalability in their IT systems that will permit a full multi-channel overview.

  • Covering high set up costs due to a diverse mix of local laws, regulations and idiosyncrasies.

  • Covering higher operating costs.

Retailers are tackling their internal challenges and driving to scale but they need to move fast to establish first-mover multi-channel international advantage.

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