Describes what a company needs to know to take advantage of e-commerce in the local market and covers prominent B2B websites.
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 2019. The market grew by 11.6 % between 2018 and 2019 representing a good opportunity for U.S. retailers that have unique products and services to offer. U.S. firms tend to do well selling products and services to the French via eCommerce.
The U.S. Commercial Service sees the French eCommerce market as a sizable opportunity for U.S. retailers in virtually every category. 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 beginning 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 or advertising “online sales” outside of permitted holiday periods.
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 trends are becoming more important in the B2C eCommerce, including m-commerce (smartphones and tablets), the “click-and-collect” or “click-and-reserve” options, the multichannel approach (web-to-store or store-to-web), the CtoC, the social commerce, and finally the sustainable and local e-commerce.
The “click-and-collect” option for general products and grocery stores in particular has grown significantly in the past years and food grocers for example are implementing more sites offering this purchasing option. The “premium” delivery subscription, just like Amazon Premium, is also developing at a fast pace. The “click-and-reserve” option is well received and already widely used in the fashion sector.
The sharing economy and its platforms are also trending in France with 60% of internet users using it for renting homes, car sharing, and grouping purchases from producers (i.e. vegetables), with popular global brands such as Airbnb and local players such as BlaBla Car.
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.
The shared economy has not bypassed France, with 60% buying or selling products directly with each other on websites such as Le Bon Coin.
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%).
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.
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%).
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, Booking, Oui SNCF (travel and train tickets), Veepee, etc. Additional sources : Top 15 de l’eCommerce Français en Audience
In 2019, 16.3 million people made a purchase through their mobile phone. 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 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%). Note when shopping outside of the EU, French consumers must pay an import fee for any goods purchased with the price above 22 Euros.
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 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. Facebook is still the premier choice for e-merchants followed by Instagram and Twitter. In France, the number of monthly visitors in 2019 to the following sites are:
- Facebook 46.9 million,
- You Tube 45.3 million,
- Instagram 28 million,
- WhatsApp 24.4 million.
- Snapchat 19.3 million
- LinkedIn 16.8 million,
- Twitter 16.7 million,
Local eCommerce Sales Rules & Regulations / The European Union’s Digital Single Market Initiative
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
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, in particular, 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.
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.
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.