Automation can help you become a hit with Benelux buyers

Findings within the Avalara-sponsored RetailX Benelux ecommerce region report 2023 show the overwhelming majority of people in Benelux — comprising Belgium, the Netherlands, and Luxembourg — shop online. Folks there also happen to be among the happiest people in the world, according to the World Happiness Index. Perhaps the region is living proof that retail is the best therapy.

The Benelux nations signed a 50-year customs agreement back in 1958 to ease trade. It was renewed in 2008 to focus on economic union and the formation of a single market. How is that working out today? Benelux has a rich economy, with a GDP per capita of €83,910 — well above the average for Europe at €46,110. This prosperous region with a digital-savvy populace adds up to €34.4bn of ecommerce revenue in 2022, up from €20.8bn 2020.

For sellers looking to enter new and rewarding markets with no shortage of online shoppers, Benelux could be a safe bet. Some further findings among the insight and analysis in the report:

  • 94% of Benelux’s 29.5 million people use the internet, and 74% shop online — growing from 66% in 2019
  • 84 million purchases were made online in the Netherlands (the largest market in Benelux) in the first quarter of 2023, with 9 million being made with retailers in other countries
  • Fashion is the most popular sector — 36% of all online revenue in Luxembourg, 35% in Belgium, and 31% in the Netherlands goes to fashion brands and retailers

Benelux buyers are moving online

The number of Benelux consumers preferring to shop online instead of in a bricks-and-mortar store is increasing (for example, in the summer of 2022, 30% of consumers in the Netherlands said they preferred to shop online, up from 26% in previous years). The numbers get even higher among younger shoppers — survey results cited in the report reveal that 42% of Gen Z and 39% of millennials would rather buy online than in-store. These younger shoppers gave saving time and money as their main reasons, especially during major sales events like Black Friday.

The week around Black Friday is a popular time for Benelux consumers. For example, almost half (46%) of consumers in the Netherlands planned to shop more online than offline (28%) during this period in 2022. Six out of 10 consumers also delayed a major purchase until Black Friday in order to save money.

Much of the growth of online shopping is coming from mobile, accounting for more than 40% of online spend in Luxembourg, and 37% in both Belgium and the Netherlands. Retailers in the region therefore develop their selling methods accordingly, to include omnichannel services and buying and delivery experiences available to smartphone users.

Marketplaces dominate

Almost half (48) of businesses in the RetailX list of the largest 100 Benelux retailers and brands are marketplaces. 54% of consumer web traffic goes to marketplaces, exceeding that of all other retail sites. Bol.com is the dominant marketplace, maintaining 19% of brand revenue share compared to Amazon’s 8%.

Perhaps Bol.com’s environmentally friendly reputation is proving popular among Benelux buyers — another survey cited within the report found that environmental concerns are important to Benelux shoppers, especially among younger buyers. In the Netherlands alone, 60% actively consider the environment when placing an order online, compared to 48% of older shoppers.

Bol.com has become a B Corp, meaning sustainability measures are as important as profit. It’s implemented a range of measures to reduce its operational impact on the environment such as installing solar panels and wind turbines at the site of its distribution centre, which is now powered entirely by green electricity. In addition, Bol.com is helping customers to reduce their own environmental footprint by adding ‘Sustainable Choice’ labels to its products, and allowing buyers to choose carbon-free delivery solutions.

Given Bol.com’s dominance and popularity, it would come as no surprise to see more marketplaces and retailers follow suit.

How automation can help

Within Benelux, trade is largely unrestricted by borders and compliance rules. But for businesses outside wanting to sell into the region, the challenge of cross-border tax compliance remains. So how can your cross-border compliance strategy actually help you appeal to cost-wary, mobile-first buyers with an environmental conscience looking to save time?

Using automation is key. The right software can be integrated into the systems you already use and rolled out across your platforms and channels, so mobile users can benefit from the same buying experiences as desktop users. It can then be used to boost your appeal with overseas buyers by calculating international tax rates and providing more accurate checkout prices — a factor frequently cited as essential to an excellent customer experience, but difficult to achieve when relying on manual calculation methods.

Automation can also help you assign Harmonised System (HS) codes (six-digit identifiers assigned to every product sold across international borders) to your products more accurately. By doing so, the chances of your items being subject to customs delays and extra fees (including surprise costs being passed onto the customer) are reduced, expediting delivery and helping to please your overseas customers.

The same software can also flag any items that customs and authorities within Benelux are likely to restrict, subject to additional checks, or ban altogether. Removing these items from your itinerary can greatly reduce instances of unnecessary return shipping and its environmental impact.

Avalara can support sellers of all types and sizes when entering new markets by helping them to simplify the cross-border compliance tasks that cost time and money, drain resources, and divert focus. With the right cloud-based tools doing the heavy lifting, and easing the pain of burdensome and boring compliance tasks, sellers can focus on what they do best — entering new markets, developing exciting products, and delighting customers.

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