In Western Europe, Belgium was relatively late with embracing ecommerce. As a result, a lot of tech savvy consumers went (and still are) shopping online abroad, especially at Dutch online shops. This also led to several big online merchants from the Netherlands opening .be-webshops that are focused on attracting Belgian consumers. This way, Belgian ecommerce is still facing the results of diving a little bit too late in the ecommerce pool.
However, Belgium now scores well on the European Commissions’ Digital Scoreboard. These measures, which take into account a number of factors including availability of digital infrastructure, citizen’s engagement with digital services and connectivity, rank above the UK. According to tesymy.net, the present average download speed in Belgium is 38.4 Mbps, indicating that consumers on average, have good access to quality internet connections. This measure allows merchants a degree of confidence that users will be able to make good use of rich media services such as video content.
Most online purchases of Belgian consumers are still taking place in neighboring countries such as the Netherlands, Germany and France. However, whereas 75 percent of the top 100’s revenue was generated thanks to foreign customers last year, that share is now 72 percent. So, Belgian ecommerce companies are slowly gaining ground in their own country. But only in terms of revenue, because the number of Belgian ecommerce players in the BeShopping100 list has decreased from 32 to 28. Also, the share of Belgian consumers who shop online in Belgium has decreased, from 26 percent last year to 24 percent now.
The need to tailor offerings according to local laws, culture, and in two languages (French and Dutch), combined with a small population, make Belgium a somewhat more difficult market for those entering the EU ecommerce division. However, in February 2008, eBay introduced a system to allow users in Belgium to register using an electronic identity card instead of a credit card. Using this government-issued electronic identity card, known as eID, provides greater proof of identity and security in exchange of electronic data. Such increased security provides for greater trust in the ecommerce market and may offer a boost in attractiveness.
For the Belgian market, localisation will be hard and have increased levels of expectation. The two regions, Wallonia and Flanders set their own requirements, even for domestic retailers trying to trade nationally. French language websites will fare better in Wallonia than Flanders whilst Dutch will work in the latter region. Interestingly, a report in the Brussels Times cited data from Taalbarometer VUB 20115 which showed that French (89%) was the main language in Brussels, with decreasing numbers of the population speaking Dutch (23%). More people now speak English in the capital (23%). Of course, there are also significant numbers of the Belgian population who are multilingual, with German, French, Dutch and English being spoken, and the cultural challenge should be recognised by merchants looking to trade in to the country.
As in any territory, there is always a reluctance to trust online merchants early on in the trading relationship, certainly until a degree of transactional history has been created. Getting customers to purchase for the first time is the biggest challenge; keeping them comes down to the strength of the proposition and how closely the brand sticks to the customer promise. In Belgium, key drivers for online purchasing are price (46%) and simple returns (57%).
Belgian customers primarily use cards and online bank payment method to pay online, while in Luxembourg customers use credit cards, like Visa, MasterCard, American Express and JCB and sometimes PayPal.
30% of online payments are made through Bancontact/Mistercash. Bancontact is a domestic payment method that is linked to a bank account and can be used instore, online and via a mobile app. Bancontact transactions don’t have the risk associated with chargebacks commonly associated with card payments. According to Worldpay, over 80% of online merchants in Belgium accept Bancontact
Alternatives include bank transfers, which account for 18%; cash on delivery at 10% and Prepay at 4%. PayPal also has a significant presence with 12% of transactions going through the platform.
In Belgium, 91% of Belgian consumers haven’t experienced online banking fraud. However, 1% have done so on a regular basis whilst 8% have been impacted occasionally. This low level of impact and fear goes some-way to explaining why payment cards are still the main method for paying online in Belgium. The international card schemes, Visa, MasterCard and American Express have all introduced additional security features for online card payments. The most notable is 3D-Secure. This is a mechanism by which card users have to authenticate themselves during the online transaction by responding to a security challenge, usually providing a full or partial password response. Card issuers in both territories are supporting 3D-Secure functionality and according to the Ogone 3D Secure Barometer in 2014, that latest data available, 60% of Dutch and 89% of Belgian online card transactions are being authenticated by this method.
Belgium use of mobile devices for transactions isn’t far behind the European average in terms of mobile share of ecommerce, equating to, 12% of total online sales or €969m in 2015.