… and Statistics: Consumer e-Commerce 2017

There is something strange about the statement that 24% of Dutch consumer spending is online consumer e-commerce. Dutch Thuiswinkel.org, the lobby group for Dutch e-commerce businesses, published its 2017 update on consumer online commerce. Apart from the absolute volume of transactions, €22,5 billion in 2017, it also argues that 24% of total consumer spending is online (B2C) commerce.

The problem with this statement concerns the true size of consumer spending. From the definitions used in this study, it is not clear which and why some products and services categories have been left out, only what is included. The ones included are:

  • Electronics
  • Fashion
  • FMCG
  • Home & Garden
  • Media & Entertainment
  • Toys
  • Sports and Leisure
  • Telecom
  • Tickets for events
  • Travel
  • Insurance
  • Other products and services

Although not specifically mentioned in the consumer e-commerce monitor of Thuiswinkel.org, we conclude that if €22,5 billion in consumer e-commerce represents 24% of total consumer commerce, the total consumer spending must be € 94 billion. However Dutch Central Bureau of Statistics states that total consumer spending in 2017 was over €310 billion. So the study misses some € 216 billion in consumer spending, about 70% of all consumer spending. Obviously, it is a bold statement to say 24% of consumer spending is online commerce.

Product groups and services that are clearly not part of the research include € 60 billion in housing services,  € 9 billion in vehicles and € 11 billion fuel, € 20 billion in health and € 15 billion in energy (all CBS statistics). The research doesn’t say however why these categories are not taken into account.

Nevertheless, even if we would subtract the above categories from the total consumer spending – €310 billion – total consumer spending would still be at €204 billion. More than twice the number used by Thuiswinkel.org. And why should categories like vehicles, health, fuel and energy be left out of the e-commerce equation? It is not so hard to see that these product and services could be electronically purchased by consumers. In fact, banking for instance, is a true consumer e-commerce service.

So, 24% may look like a big part of the consumer commerce pie but if the size of the pie is just 30% of the official pie, the value of this number, like all percentages, is very relative and in this case very much inflated. Using the official consumer spending number as calculated by Dutch Central Bureau of Statistics, total consumer e-commerce would be less than 9% of all consumer commerce.

There is an upside, though. The press release mentions that e-commerce growth is slightly lower than the year before. This could indicate that the low hanging online fruit has been harvested. It also indicates that omni-channel strategies not only just focus on online but are evolving into more balanced integrated sales/fulfillment methods in which online commerce is just one (but growing) pillar.  The real e-commerce challenge is still ahead and is to take on the not so obvious products and services and turn these into e-commerce opportunities. Even online ordering of a double espresso on a sunny terrace qualifies for e-commerce, and is happening! For the true marketeers and entrepreneurs consumer e-commerce is just beginning.

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About Marcel Warmerdam