Italy is one of the fastest growing ecommerce markets in Europe – recording double-digit growth rates since 2017 – with a forecasted 10% annual growth rate from 2019 to 2023. The pandemic has certainly helped to accelerate this boom, with a promise for a major increase in cross-border ecommerce as well. The growth of the online market in Italy in recent years suggests that there are opportunities for foreign retailers to penetrate the Italian market.
If this is possible, however, it must be done with an ad hoc cross border strategy that takes into account the specificities of the Italian market, its buyers and cross border logistics.
The premises are all there: Italians are very interested in buying from foreign online sellers because there is limited availability of certain products on the local market in Italy, and also because there is still relatively little competition among retailers with a national ecommerce network. Therefore, there is fertile ground for those who want to do cross-border retailing in Italy, but they must take into account certain variables.
The Typical Italian Buyer
The first thing a foreign retailer needs to consider is who they are selling to, and then behave accordingly. Around 90% of the population speak Italian as their first language, so Italian buyers will expect websites in this language and specific payment options.
Other useful information to know: the typical Italian buyer is patient and waits up to five days for a parcel to arrive, but it is important that shipments are free or low-cost.
Another characteristic of cross-border retail in Italy is the indecision of Italian shoppers – before placing an order, the typical Italian shopper may want to visit a website up to five times. Not only that, Italians who buy online are big fans of wish lists, so it is advisable that the eCommerce site of a foreign retailer who wants to sell in Italy has this function.
Desktops are used for the majority of online shopping activities by consumers in Italy (58.44%), compared to mobiles (38.87%) and tablets (2.69%). However, optimising online shops for mobiles is an absolute must as almost all adults have a mobile phone in Italy and the mobile-first approach is growing at a CAGR of 17% for 2019-2023. A mobile-first approach, therefore, is highly recommended for the future.
Finally, anyone deciding to open an eCommerce store in Italy will need to be able to build a relationship with older customers who have only recently opened up to eCommerce. For this, customer care is a must.
It is very important for any company that decides to expand in Italy to offer local payment methods. Not doing so means losing around 60% of sales – equivalent to leaving €18 billion of potential sales on the table every year.
The preferred method of payment for Italians is PayPal, followed by prepaid cards, credit cards and then cash on delivery – a method that is being abandoned anyway and that is mainly used by those who have approached ecommerce for the first time in recent months.
Among the most widely used credit cards for online purchases are MasterCard, Visa and CartaSi. But new trends are also appearing on the Italian market: almost one third of all Italian ecommerce purchases are made with an e-wallet, often funded through a bank account. This is the case with Satispay, a popular and growing mobile wallet that allows consumers to pay for purchases online and in-store, as well as exchange money with friends.
What Italians Are Looking For
But what are the products most bought by Italians online? Consumer electronics is the most purchased item online, with 44% of consumers saying they do so. Then there are books, films, music and games, followed by clothing and then – in a small percentage – furniture and household items (10% of consumers).
Logistics and shipping
Another major issue for companies wanting to do cross-border ecommerce in Italy is logistics. First of all, it is necessary for a foreign brand to know which shipping companies ship across borders: the main couriers include the Gruppo Poste Italiane, GLS Italia, DHL, UPS, TNT Express and Fedex. B2C delivery is dominated by Poste Italiane and BRT.
But this is not the only important thing to know. Italy from a shipping point of view is divided in two: while there is a strong growth potential for distribution in Northern Italy, delivery in the South is more challenging, especially in the islands of Sicily and Sardinia.
Costs and contingencies
Last, but certainly not least, there is the question of costs. Italians demand transparency: they want to be able to see delivery rates or any taxes on cross border transactions early on in their purchase. The ideal way to win over Italian shoppers is to offer free or competitive shipping rates, while at the same time ensuring easy returns.