France - Country Commercial Guide
eCommerce

Describes what a company needs to know to take advantage of e-commerce in the local market and covers prominent B2B websites.

Last published date: 2021-10-12

Overview

French B2C commerce of products and services is one of the largest markets in the world, ranking second in Europe and fifth in the world in terms of online consumption in 2020.  The market continues to grow at a steady rate of more than 10%. It is likely to grow even higher than expected due to the unprecedented impacts of the Covid 19 pandemic, which profoundly affected the retail sector and accelerated the development of online shopping. Successive lockdowns forced people to purchase online because all but essential stores were completely shut down., .  The impact will be long lasting as consumers’ habits have changed, representing a good opportunity for U.S. retailers with unique products and services to offer. 

The U.S. Commercial Service sees the French eCommerce market as a sizable opportunity for U.S. retailers in virtually every category providing a good positioning and digital presence in this very competitive market.  The French are fond of American culture and tend to enjoy our brands. Many firms begin by testing the market directly from their U.S. site or using Amazon or a similar French marketplace to gauge interest.  Online marketplaces are starting to disrupt industries where traditionally starting with a distributor or sales agent would have been advisable.

For U.S. SMEs operating without a presence in Europe, it is important to understand the basic rules and regulations for selling to consumers in the market.  While we expect that the Digital Single Market strategy (see below) will assist U.S. firms in adhering to one single set of rules and regulations across Europe, U.S. firms currently must navigate national and European regulations and standards for selling products online.  The French tend to interpret existing EU regulations stringently or tend to regulate in areas where the EU has not yet proposed legislation.  For example, several recent online players, both U.S. and European, have been fined in France for violating rules such as the protection of consumer’s data privacy.

When approaching the EU market, U.S. Commercial Service recommends starting small and selecting the markets that show the most potential. France may be attractive not only because of the size of the market, but the effect that Brexit may have on currency fluctuations and shipping costs from the UK to the rest of the continent. If a firm determines that the French market represents a good opportunity, seek out local service providers and experts that can help with a digital marketing strategy. The U.S. Commercial Service in Paris can be a good starting point.

Assessment of Current Buyer Behavior in Market

Some recent trends that became more important in the B2C eCommerce have accelerated during the Covid 19 pandemic.  M-commerce (smartphones and tablets), the “click-and-collect” or “click-and-reserve” options, the C2C, the social commerce, and finally the sustainable and local e-commerce have all seen tremendous growth during the successive lockdowns. The “click-and-collect” option for general products and grocery stores in particular, which had grown significantly in the past years, has even touched the traditional farmers’ market suppliers who had no other choice to sell their fresh products while people were told to stay home.  Most food grocers, even smaller ones are implementing convenient services on their sites and developing their digital presence.  The “premium” delivery subscription, just like Amazon Premium, is growing rapidly. The “click-and-reserve” option is also a growing service.

The pandemic and successive lockdowns have revealed pronounced changes in consumption habits, with customers more inclined to seek the bargains and favor a greener purchasing behavior.  The shared economy and its platforms are also trending in France with 60% of internet users using them for renting homes, car sharing, and grouping purchases from producers (i.e. vegetables).  A notable trend is the craze for second hand or refurbished items.  Specialized websites such as Le Bon Coin, Vinted or Back Market have all experienced tremendous activity during the past year.  At the same time, the e-tourism sector and the usual performing websites, such as Booking or AirBnB were hit hard.

Another growing trend for e-merchants is the use of marketplaces; 35% sell on marketplaces and 23% operate their own marketplace.  With an annual growth of 14%, sales on marketplaces account for over 30% of total e-commerce sales. 

Domestic eCommerce (B2C)

In 2019, 37.5 million French people shopped online, which represents over 80% of internet users. The average online transaction in 2019 was around $66 (€59) and online shoppers tend to shop more frequently, approximately 28 times a year, for a total amount spent of around $2,886 (€2,577) in 2019.  Online shoppers purchase mainly clothing (51%), cultural products (41%), toys and games (38%), travel packages (37%), and shoes (36%).  Most of the sales volume, however, occurs in tourism (46%), high tech appliances (25.9%), home equipment (20.4%) and clothing (14.7%).            

Cross-Border eCommerce

B2C shopping abroad is also becoming more popular; there is a growing share of cross-border online purchases taking place. French e-buyers are proportionally more likely to buy abroad than the average European e-buyer.    In 2019, 36 % of French online shoppers bought from foreign e-merchants, and 62% of e-merchants established in France received orders from customers abroad.

B2B eCommerce

With a growth rate of around 15% a year over the past three years, sales to professionals (B2B) via websites (not including EDI) represent an average of 4% of total company turnover.  This market was estimated at $168 billion in 2019 and is expected to grow significantly in the next coming years.  Most of the transactions were made in travel and transportation purchases (53%), followed by a few sectors such as office supplies (33%), computer supplies (30%), medical supplies (25%).

eCommerce Intellectual Property Rights

France is a strong defender of intellectual property rights. US firms should refer to this Country Commercial Guide’s Intellectual Property section and the local Code of Intellectual Property for further information:

Key Link: Legifrance/Traductions

Popular eCommerce Sites

Popular eCommerce sites in France include Amazon, Fnac, Cdiscount, Le Bon Coin, Veepee, Vinted, Ali Express, Leroy Merlin (DIY) etc. 

Top 100 French eCommerce websites: https://www.ecommerce-nation.fr/top-ecommerce-france/

Mobile eCommerce

In 2019, 16.3 million people purchased their mobile phones. Sales on mobile phones and tablets continue to grow very fast and they already account for close to 40% of total eCommerce sales on leading sites.

In 2020, purchases through the mobile phone have grown substantially, and 48% of French consumers use their phone to buy on groceries websites (18%), fashion and apparel (15%), and general merchandise e-stores (14%).  Thus the importance of having a well-developed site for the mobile purchasing experience. 

Payments

In France, 85% of online purchases are paid using debit cards tied to their bank account. The French are not accustomed to using credit cards to pay with credit.  The French use other means of online payments, which include electronic wallets (9%), check (1%), gift vouchers, installment payments, direct debit authorization (1%), private cards, and other means of payment (3%). 

Major Buying Holidays

The major holidays driving purchases in France include Christmas, Mother’s Day (last Sunday of May), Father’s Day (second to last Sunday in June), and Valentine’s Day. In addition, seasonal sales (“les soldes”) run for six weeks in early January and again in the summer from late June.  The dates for sales moreover, whether online or in stores, are determined by French Trade Law.

Social Media

Social media is becoming significantly relevant for French users.  The trend for firms is to present products on various social media platforms, and to continue being active with content and recommendations.  Potential audience for digital marketers on most popular social media platforms:              

  • You Tube 49,6 million
  • Facebook 33 million
  • Snapchat 24.5 million
  • WhatsApp 24.4 million
  • Instagram 24 million
  • LinkedIn 21 million
  • Twitter 8 million

Major e-commerce show in France: Paris Retail Week taking place usually in September.

Main e-commerce trade association: FEVAD

Local eCommerce Sales Rules & Regulations / The European Union’s Digital Single Market Initiative

As a member state, France follows the European e-commerce Directive 

Some of the new developments, including the package on VAT rules for e-commerce, that the European Commission adopted on December 2018 has been implemented on July 1, 2021. 

Creating a Digital Single Market (DSM) is one of the ten priorities of the European Commission (EC).  The overall objective is to bring down barriers, regulatory or otherwise, and to unlock online opportunities in Europe, from eCommerce to e-government.  By doing so, the EU hopes to do away with the current fragmented national markets and create one borderless market with harmonized legislation and rules for the benefit of businesses and consumers throughout Europe.

The EC set out its vision in its May 6, 2015 DSM Strategy which has been followed by a number of concrete legislative proposals and policy actions.  They are broad reaching and include reforming eCommerce sector, VAT, copyright, audio-visual media services, consumer protection, and telecommunications laws.  New legislation has already been finalized on portability of online content and geo-blocking.

Many DSM proposals are still going through the legislative process.   DSM-related legislation will have a broad impact on U.S. companies doing business in Europe.

In addition, a new data protection legislation, the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) enters into force on 25 May 2018 (see separate section in this report).

The three main pillars of the strategy are:

Pillar I: Better access for consumers and businesses to digital goods and services across Europe

  • Better access for consumers and businesses to online goods and services across Europe
  • Remove key differences between the online and offline worlds to break down barriers to cross-border online activity.

Pillar II: Shaping the right environment for digital networks and services to flourish

  • Achieve high-speed, secure and trustworthy infrastructures and content services
  • Set the right regulatory conditions for innovation, investment, fair competition and a level playing field

Pillar III: Creating a European Digital Economy and society with growth potential

  • Invest in technologies such as cloud computing and Big Data, and in research and innovation to boost industrial competitiveness and skills
  • Increase interoperability and standardization

For more information:Digital Single Market

The Electronic Commerce Directive (2000/31/EC) provides rules for online services in the EU. It requires providers to abide by rules in the country where they are established (country of origin). Online providers must respect consumer protection rules such as indicating contact details on their website, clearly identifying advertising and protecting against spam. The Directive also grants exemptions to liability for intermediaries that transmit illegal content by third parties and for unknowingly hosting content. Comprehensive Market Research on eCommerce in the EU is available upon request. For information on this topic please consult the Commerce Department’s Country Commercial Guides on EU Member States: EU Member States’ Country Commercial Guides. Alternatively, search the Commerce Department’s Market Research Library, available from: Market Intelligence

Direct Marketing

The EU has yet to adopt legislation harmonizing the direct selling of consumer products.  However, there is a wide range of EU legislation that impacts the direct marketing sector. Compliance requirements are stringent for marketing and sales to private consumers. Companies need to focus on the clarity and completeness of the information they provide to consumers prior to purchase and on their approaches to collecting and using customer data. The following gives a brief overview of the most important provisions flowing from EU-wide rules on distance-selling and on-line commerce.  In addition, it is important for exporters relying on a direct-selling business model to ensure they comply with member state requirements

Processing Customer Data

The EU has strict laws governing the protection of personal data, including the use of such data in the context of direct marketing activities.  For more information on these rules, please see the Data Privacy section above.

Distance Selling Rules

In 2011, the EU overhauled its consumer protection legislation and merged several existing rules into a single rulebook - “the Consumer Rights Directive.” The provisions of this Directive have been enforced since June 13, 2014. The Directive contains provisions on core information to be provided by traders prior to the conclusion of consumer contracts.  It also regulates the right of withdrawal, includes rules on the costs for the use of means of payment and bans pre-ticked boxes.

Alternative Dispute Resolution

In 2013, the EU adopted rules on Alternative Dispute Resolution which provide consumers the right to turn to quality alternative dispute resolution entities for all types of contractual disputes including purchases made online or offline, domestically or across borders.  A specific Online Dispute Resolution Regulation, operational in January 2016, sets up an EU-wide online platform to handle consumer disputes that arise from online transactions.

New Legislation

In December 2015, the European Commission released a package of two draft Directives respectively on “contracts for the supply of digital content” and another on “contracts for the online and other distance sales of goods.”  This package addresses the legal fragmentation and lack of clear contractual rights for faulty digital content and distance selling across the EU.  The package would only address B2C contracts, although its draft scope uses a very broad definition of both digital content (including music, movies, apps, games, films, social media, cloud storage services, broadcasts of sport events, visual modeling files for 3D printing) and distance selling goods so as to cover Internet of Things (such as connected households’ appliances and toys).  It could also apply to transactions whether in the context of a monetary transaction or in exchange of (personal) consumer data.  Healthcare, gambling, and financial services are excluded from the proposal. 

Resources

Distance Selling of Financial Services

Financial services are the subject of a separate directive that came into force in June 2002 (2002/65/EC). This piece of legislation amended three prior existing Directives and is designed to ensure that consumers are appropriately protected with respect to financial transactions taking place where the consumer and the provider are not face-to-face.  In addition to prohibiting certain abusive marketing practices, the Directive establishes criteria for the presentation of contract information.  Given the special nature of financial markets, specifics are also laid out for contractual withdrawal. 

Key Link: Distance Marketing

Direct Marketing over the Internet

The eCommerce Directive (2000/31/EC) imposes certain specific requirements connected to the direct marketing business.  Promotional offers must not mislead customers and the terms that must be met to qualify for them have to be clear and easily accessible. The Directive stipulates that marketing e-mails must be identified as such to the recipient and requires that companies targeting customers on-line must regularly consult national opt-out registers where they exist. When an order is placed, the service provider must acknowledge receipt quickly and by electronic means, although the Directive does not attribute any legal effect to the placing of an order or its acknowledgment:  this is a matter for national law. Vendors of electronically supplied services (such as software, which the EU considers a service and not a good) must also collect value added tax (see Electronic Commerce section below).  The European Commission has performed a stakeholder’s consultation and is currently assessing the opportunity to propose a revision of the eCommerce Directive.  See Data Privacy Section above.

Data Privacy and Protection

The General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), which governs how personal data of individuals in the European Union may be processed, went into effect on May 25, 2018.  The GDPR, which replaces the Data Protection Directive 1995/46, is a comprehensive privacy legislation that applies across sectors and to companies of all sizes.  Personal data as defined by the GDPR as any information that relates to an identified or identifiable living individual (a “data subject”) such as a name, e-mail address, tax ID number, or online identifier.  Processing of data as defined by the Regulation includes actions such as collecting, recording, storing, or transferring data.

A company that is not established in the European Union may need to comply with the Regulation when processing personal data of residents of the European Union, European Economic Area residents (i.e., Norway, Lichtenstein, and Iceland), and Switzerland, if the company offers goods or services to data subjects in the European Union; or if the company is monitoring data subjects’ behavior, which is taking place within the European Union. The European data protection authorities published Guidelines 3/2018 on the territorial scope of the GDPR (see Article 3), to help companies determine whether they fall within the GDPR’s territorial scope.  For example, the mere accessibility of a company’s website in the European Union is insufficient to subject a company to the GDPR, but other evidence of the intent to offer goods or services (such as advertising) to data subjects in the European Union might mean that the Regulation is applicable.

Generally, companies that are not established in the European Union but that are subject to the GDPR must designate in writing an EU representative for purposes of GDPR compliance.  There is an exception to this requirement for small scale and occasional processing of non-sensitive data.  Fines in case of non-compliance can reach up to four percent of the annual worldwide revenue or twenty million euros – whichever is higher. 

The European Data Protection Board released official guidelines to help companies with their compliance process.

Transferring Data Outside of the European Union

The GDPR not only provides for the free flow of personal data within the European Union but also for its protection when it leaves the region’s borders.  The Regulation sets out obligations on data controllers (those in charge of deciding what personal data is collected and how or why it is processed), on data processors (those who act on behalf of the controller) and gives rights to data subjects (as mentioned, the individuals to whom the data relates).  These rules were designed to provide a high level of privacy protection for personal data and were complemented by measures to ensure that the protection is maintained when data leaves the region, and whether it is transferred to controllers, processors, or to third parties (e.g., subcontractors).  In addition, restrictions on transfers of personal data outside of the European Union specify that such data could only be exported if “adequate protection” is provided.

The European Commission is responsible for assessing whether a country outside the European Union has a legal framework that provides enough protection for it to issue an “adequacy finding” to that country.  There has not been an adequacy finding with respect to the United States, such that U.S. companies can only receive personal data from the European Union if they provide appropriate safeguards (e.g., standard contractual clauses or binding corporate rules), or refer to one of the GDPR’s derogations.

The EU-U.S. Privacy Shield

The EU-U.S. Privacy Shield Framework was established by the U.S. Department of Commerce and the European Commission to provide companies on both sides of the Atlantic with a mechanism to comply with EU data protection requirements when transferring personal data from the European Union to the United States in support of transatlantic commerce.  On July 16, 2020, the Court of Justice of the European Union issued a judgment declaring as invalid the European Commission’s Decision (EU) 2016/1250 of July 12, 2016, on the adequacy of the protection provided by the EU-U.S. Privacy Shield.  As a result of that decision, the EU-U.S. Privacy Shield Framework is no longer a valid mechanism to comply with EU data protection requirements when transferring personal data from the European Union to the United States.  This decision does not relieve participants in the EU-U.S. Privacy Shield of their obligations under the Privacy Shield Framework.  For more information, consult the website of the U.S. Department of Commerce, Privacy Shield Framework.  

Express Delivery

Express Delivery Service is a highly developed industry within the French economy. There are several companies, operating both domestically and internationally, that have been established in this industry since the growth of express delivery services. These include the following: DHL, FedEx, UPS Express, TNT Express, Chronopost, and La Poste. These companies ship packages domestically and internationally, provide a wide range of delivery options and prices, and have grown significantly because of the rise in eCommerce. In France, e-consumers buy around 13.5 parcels per year for a total of over 400 million parcels.  Across France, the road express delivery market is valued at over 43 billion Euros.

Sources

  • Transport et logistique de France 
  • Alternatively, search the Commerce Department’s Market Research Library, available from Market Intelligence
  • The European-American Chamber of Commerce in France
  • The French-American Chamber of Commerce in the United-States