Online shopping is growing faster in Ireland than in any other EU country, according to a European Commission survey.
The number of Irish shoppers buying goods and services online jumped by 7.8 percentage points last year, compared with an average EU growth of 2.1 points.
A better shopping experience and a corresponding increase in consumer confidence, seem to be behind the trend.
The Republic reported the steepest drop of any EU country in problems with cross-border deliveries. Shoppers’ reports of delivery problems fell by 5.8 points on average across the EU in 2014-6, but in Ireland they fell by 30.1 points.
The commission noted “some statistical evidence suggesting that the decrease in delivery problems may have contributed to the boost in consumer confidence in online buying”
The figures also indicate scope for further growth in online shopping in Ireland. Only 59.2% of Irish people shopped online in 2016, whereas in the UK, Europe’s top market for online shopping, the figure was 82.6%.
Garrett Bridgeman, general manager for parcels at An Post, said: “I think that Irish purchasing habits tend to follow the UK, but a couple of years behind. In the UK, people spend on average €1,000 a year on online shopping. We currently spend around €500 but we have seen significant growth of 10% year on year.”
Irish consumers had the second-highest level of confidence in online shopping, just behind the UK, for both domestic and cross-border purchases.
An Post, which aims to take a larger share of Ireland’s €600m parcel delivery market, estimates that the value of this sector will double in the next five or six years. Bridgeman said the state-owned company’s new strategy had been “spurred on by people’s ferocious appetite for online shopping”.
“People want choice and value for money and they don’t have the time to shop, and all of these needs are met online,” he said.
An Post’s data indicates that more rural than urban addresses are receiving goods purchased online. Bridgeman suggested this might be due to people in the countryside being farther from shopping centres and department stores.
The EU survey indicated that Irish businesses were cashing in on the online shopping trend. About 30.3% of firms with at least 10 employees were selling online in 2015, the highest pro–portion in the EU, where the average is 20.4%.
Ireland also experienced the fastest growth in the proportion of businesses selling online, which was up 9.3 points between 2009 and 2015, compared with an EU average of 5.5 points.
Retail Excellence, the retailers’ association, claimed that stiff international competition was limiting benefits from the shift to online shopping.
Lorraine Higgins, head of public affairs at Retail Excellence, said about €850,000 was spent online every hour, of which 70% went to businesses operating outside Ireland.
“In general, jewellery, childrenswear, clothing, footwear and most items deemed discretionary spending are all being affected by the migration to online shopping as they are subjected to hyper-intense competition from UK retailers,” said Higgins.
“Pharmacy, gardening, cosmetics and electronics are performing well.”
An Post hopes to facilitate even more online shopping with a new parcel service.
More than 100,000 customers have registered for AddressPal, a service started in March last year that allows Irish people to buy from British and American companies that do not ship to Ireland.
In August, An Post will launch Return Pal, which will allow people to text their postman via an app to ask him to collect online returns from their home.
Ireland ranks ninth for uptake of online shopping. Countries trailing behind it include Austria, Belgium, Portugal and Italy.
The lowest uptake for online shopping was in Romania and Bulgaria, at 11.9% and 16.8% of the population respectively.