Increased household internet access (82%) has seen Irish online retailing activity grow to $5.8 billion during 2015 – an increase of 15% from 2014. Over 40% of Irish consumers shop online, compared with just 14% back in 2004. Travel, hotel accommodation and event ticketing are the principal goods and services bought online.
More Irish firms are creating online sales portals on the back of successful online activities of firms such as Aer Lingus, Ryanair, and Ticketmaster. Retail Ireland’s Online Retailing Survey 2013 reports that 84% of retailers have an online presence while 64% intend to upgrade their presence in the next 18 months. The majority of retailers also advertise on social media channels such as Facebook and Twitter and over 50% have plans to focus on smartphone applications and tablet technology. U.S. companies such as Google, Facebook, LinkedIn, eBay, PayPal, Yahoo and Amazon have all established significant operations in Ireland.
According to EuroMonitor International, internet retailing in Ireland continues to expand rapidly with mobile internet retailing becoming especially significant. Retailers are launching fully-functional mobile apps while store-based retailers are increasingly utilizing multi-channel options. Click-&-collect services have become more widely available, allowing retailers to maximize retail potential without incurring delivery fees, while the consumer has almost immediate access to purchases without having to plan for deliveries.
Online payments in the Republic are predominantly card-based, with Visa having the largest market share at 65%. PayPal is also a major player with 20% usage. Card Not Present (CNP) fraud grew at a modest 3% in 2013, less than the growth in online transactions. 3D Secure is in operation and any merchant handling payment card data must conform to PCIDSS rules.
Mobile devices now account for 56% of traffic to websites but desktop is still a key element of the customer experience and journey. There are also indications that smartphones are becoming increasingly important for the consumer, with traffic from these devices up by 10% in 2015. 39% of Irish online consumers are now using smartphones to inform their purchase decisions. The majority of Irish retail websites are mobile-optimised while less than half are mobile responsive.
Wolfgang Digital, in their Q4 2015 ecommerce Report looked at the devices used for accessing transactional websites. In 2014, the dominant device was desktop which was responsible for 54% of traffic. In 2015, smartphones had increased by 10% to 39% of all traffic. As tablet had stayed at 17% and desktop had fallen by 10%, it is reasonable to assume that smartphones are becoming much more important in the multichannel journey. This isn’t to say that only retailers with stores and websites are gaining, although there is an obvious benefit for them – consumers are taking smartphones with them to combine offline and online research and then making the purchase in the appropriate channel.
Combined, mobile devices now outstrip desktop in terms of total traffic at 56% versus 44%. This doesn’t take into account the channel via which the final transaction takes place and it is highly likely that desktop devices will still be responsible for the majority of transactions. The role of smartphones is further highlighted in the Consumer Barometer 2015 data, which shows that 38% of users utilise the devices for product discovery while 27% use the functionality to access more information about a product; prices, features and availability.
The data also highlights the importance of a mobile-optimised experience with a quarter of users saying that issues would encourage them to go to another website. The Irish market sees over 30% of internet traffic going via smartphones; over a third higher than the EU28 average and ahead of both the US and UK markets. This is reflected in device penetration where, according to the Consumer Barometer 2015, 75% of the adult Irish population use a smartphone. In parallel to other surveys showing that VOD is growing in the Republic, Statcounter report that over half use their smartphones daily to access video. According to Ofcom, 63% of adults in Northern Ireland have smartphones and 54% of households have access to a tablet. 60% of mobile device owners have transacted via their devices. On smartphones, Android devices are ahead of Apple in terms of accessing apps and while the same is true for tablets, the difference is smaller.
PayPal’s insight also suggests that m-commerce was worth €1.4bn in 2015, up 65% on the previous year and that m-commerce in the Republic will have doubled by the end of 2017 to €2.7bn
A core element of trust and confidence for many consumers is that of personal data – how it is used, disseminated, protected and controlled. All age groups are concerned but for those aged 35-49 particularly so; probably as a result of witnessing the development of online first-hand and having enough awareness to be able to understand the difference that having data in the digital space means versus the ‘old’ technologies. How companies process and share personal data is also of concern to this group, as it the sheer volume of personal data being held online. The more social media-conscious 16-24 age group is understandably concerned with how their data might be shared on the social media platforms, particularly where they don’t want it shared widely. 
The European Central Bank Fraud Report showed that the Republic suffered from some of the highest CNP fraud levels in the EU but, amongst its peer group, had the lowest levels of growth. By comparison however, as a proportion of transactions, overall fraud grew at an alarming 23%; probably as a result of the rapid increase seen in overall payments being processed. On the CNP front, the UK and Irish markets have been pushing counter-fraud tools such as 3D Secure and this has probably had an impact on the growth of CNP fraud. This data doesn’t show that the biggest growth areas for CNP fraud have actually been Mail Or Telephone Order (MOTO).
Payment Card Industry Data Security Scheme (PCIDSS) also places emphasis and responsibilities onto organisations that hold and process payment card data. This is an evolving and international standard that the card schemes and acquiring banks will enforce to ensure that payment data is protected as much as practically possible. Another element helping to combat fraud in the Republic has been the introduction of postal codes and a wider awareness amongst both businesses and consumers. Businesses trading into the Republic should ensure they have suitable counter-fraud tools in place and look to their payment service provider for advice on se ing rules and managing the risk. 
Irish consumers have embraced this technology with more than 78% of them manage their money or make payments using a smartphone according to a recent report from Visa Europe. Furthermore this type of usage most certainly correlates with the increase adoption of contactless technology among credit and debit card users. Activities such as these have catapulted Ireland to 8th place in Europe for the highest proportion of mobile payments users, even though mobile payment services such as Apple pay have yet to be launched. This bodes well for when the likes of Apple, Google and Samsung decide to bring their services to the Irish consumer as they’ll certainly be eager to try this way of payment. 
Lack of trust of foreign sites, concerns around returns / refunds and a perceived lack of need are the main reasons holding Irish consumers back from online cross-border shopping. Data protection is a key concern, particularly in the 16-24 age group and international merchants would be well advised to take these concerns into account across all age groups, especially when collecting information for marketing purposes. There is a strong consumer protection ethos in the country with ECC-Net having a presence and a powerful Competition and Consumer Protection Commission all having a role in helping consumers and business.
All organisations that are responsible for processing personal data (data controllers) have to comply with eight data protection principles set out in the DPA. Personal data is information relating to a living individual who can be identified from that information or from that information and other information in the data controller’s possession, or from other information that is likely to come into the data controller’s possession – essentially, it is information about a living identifiable individual and includes a person’s name, address, contact details and bank details. Personal data also includes any expression of opinion about the individual and any indication of the data controller’s intentions or any other person’s intentions in respect of the individual. In summary the eight data protection principles require that:
There is stronger legal protection for “sensitive personal data”. Sensitive personal data means personal data consisting of information about an individual’s racial or ethnic origin, political opinions, religious or similar beliefs, trade union membership, physical or mental health or condition, sexual life, or commission of or proceedings for any offense committed or alleged to have been committed by the individual and the outcome of such proceedings. Failure to comply with these obligations can result in a criminal prosecution with fines of up to €5,000 and on indictment €250,000 per offense. A code of practice pertaining to handling data breaches is provided by the ODPC on their website.