France - Country Commercial Guide

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: 2019-10-13

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 2017.  The market grew by 14.3 % between 2016 and 2017 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.
Current Market Trends
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 and social 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 market places; their sales grew by 46% in 2018 and represent 26% of their total sales volume.  Marketplaces now account for 9% of online purchasing and are estimated to represent more than $3.3 billion (€ 3 billion) in 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 2017, 37.5 million French people shopped online, which represents over 80% of internet users. The average online transaction in 2016 was around $75 (€70) and online shoppers tend to shop more frequently, approximately 28 times a year, for a total amount spent of around $2,138 (€2,000) in 2016.  Online shoppers purchase mainly clothing (59%), cultural products (49%), travel packages (38%), and high-tech products (39%).  Most of the sales volume, however, occurs in tourism (32%), clothing (10%), home equipment (7%) and click-and-collect grocery products (7%). 

Cross-Border eCommerce
B2C shopping abroad is also becoming more popular; there is a growing share of cross-border online purchases taking place, although not as high as in other parts of Europe. In 2016, 41 % of French online shoppers bought from foreign e-merchants and 50% of e-merchants established in France received orders from customers abroad.           
B2B eCommerce
Just over 20% of French companies make purchases electronically which represents 18% of the total amount of sales to professionals (B2B).  This market was estimated at $490 billion in 2016 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, Cdiscount, Fnac, Ebay, Voyages SNCF (travel and train tickets) and Price Minister.
Additional sources

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.
Mobile eCommerce
In 2016, 9.3 million people made a purchase through their mobile phone, representing a total market of $12 billion. Sales on mobile phones and tablets continue to grow very fast and they already account for 11.2% of total sales of total eCommerce sales.
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. Facebook is still the premier choice for e-merchants followed by Instagram and Twitter. In France, the number of monthly visitors in 2017 to the following sites are:

  • Facebook 40.8 million,
  • You Tube 37.3 million,
  • Instagram 19.3 million,
  • LinkedIn 16 million,
  • Twitter 13.9 million,
  • WhatsApp 13.3 million.
  • Snapchat 12.2 million

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
DSM Strategy
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