Swiss retail has stagnated in 2017 with a slight plus in the food/near-food sector, and a slight minus in the non-food sector. E-commerce, however, has increased by 10% with an even bigger increase in cross-border purchases (23%). Especially in fashion, the competition from abroad is strong, with imports most frequently being made from Germany, France, and China. For 2018, experts expect a further growth of the e-commerce sector. Export through e-commerce remains an unexplored area that shows a lot of potential. In terms of marketing, an increase in sales promotions is expected, which makes product and promotion-oriented marketing tools indispensable.
Developments in Swiss Retail 2017
The general development in Swiss retail over the last two years has been one of contraction. In 2017, however, the economy stabilized and many industries already saw an upswing in the first half of the year. This led to a surge in confidence and optimism both among corporations and consumers. Furthermore, the Swiss Franc lost value in relation to the Euro from April to October 2017, which was favorable for Swiss exports. This would lead to the assumption that the retail sector performed well in 2017. However, according to Credit Suisse’s “Retail Outlook 2018,” the sector seems to be lagging behind the overall economic developments: it stagnated in 2017, with the food/near-food sector achieving a slight plus in comparison to last year, the non-food sector experiencing a slight minus due to generally lower prices and loss of customers to online competition from abroad.
Developments in E-commerce 2017
Out of the entire Swiss population, 95% are regular internet users, and 86% shop online, according to NetComm Suisse, which constitutes a high overall internet saturation. Roughly 90% of all internet users have purchased something online in the last year, a percentage only topped by the UK (93%) and Germany (92%) in Europe. On average, Swiss online shoppers spend almost 2’500 CHF per year online, which is a clear increase from previous years even though the number of online-shoppers has not changed. This could indicate that people feel more and more secure shopping online.
While the general retail sector stagnated in 2017, the e-commerce sector grew. According to a report by the VSV (Verband des Schweizerischen Versandhandels), e-commerce has increased by 10% in comparison to the previous year. Furthermore, cross-border purchases rose disproportionately with a 23% increase. However, the online sector constitutes only 7.6% of overall Swiss commerce, leaving considerable room for growth.
What and Where People Shop Online
The statistics provided by NetComm Suisse identify fashion and accessories as the most commonly purchased products online, followed by transportation, events (tickets), holidays, and books. According to the VSV, the top products shopped for online are home electronics, followed by fashion and shoes. The most popular sales channels, according to NetComm, are the online shop of a brand itself, sites of retailers who simultaneously have an online shop, and specialized websites for a specific type of product. Furthermore, digital newsletters and social networks prove very effective for customer engagement.
The two biggest e-commerce platforms in Switzerland are currently Digitec Galaxus, followed by Zalando. Especially Zalando experienced remarkable growth over the last years, their sales have multiplied by seven since 2012. Swiss customers spend above the average amount on purchases from Zalando compared to German and Austrian consumers (CS).
Fashion and E-Commerce
While fashion is one of the most lucrative e-commerce areas, it also has the strongest competition from abroad. 40% of Swiss customers have bought fashion items on foreign e-commerce sites. The top reasons for buying on international sites are better prices, the lack of availability of a certain product on domestic platforms, and the greater selection of products on foreign sites. Swiss online shoppers most commonly buy from Germany, France, and China (NetComm). Given that the Swiss currency is still rather strong, the price argument will most likely remain relevant in 2018.
Trends for 2018
NetComm Suisse points to the unrealized potential of export through e-commerce. Switzerland has a positive reputation abroad regarding high-quality products, websites’ trustworthiness, and payment and data security. While the actual number of foreign online buyers is still limited, this favorable reputation could be used to considerably expand export through e-commerce. NetComm also highlights the growing prevalence of purchases made on mobile devices: 78% of internet users already own a mobile device (smartphone or tablet) and use it for an increasing number of activities, including online shopping.
The VSV expects e-commerce to increase by another 10% in 2018, with a repeated 20% rise in purchases made on foreign sites. They emphasize logistics as the core area for further development: because the pricing pressure will lead to a gradual equalization of prices, companies have to distinguish themselves in other ways. Fast and convenient shipping will play a big role in this. Moreover, purchases made on foreign sites are expected to increase further, especially with the first wave of direct imports from China reaching Switzerland. This once again heats up the price competition.
The general spending power in Switzerland, according to Credit Suisse, is estimated to remain roughly the same in 2018. An overall shift away from stationary retail to e-commerce is to be expected. In fact, many retailers did not reach their sales targets in 2017 but met or even exceeded their online sales goals. Many retailers have not yet adjusted their investments to mirror this shift towards e-commerce, since it remains a relatively small part of their overall profit. A conscious development and strengthening of the online sector, therefore,h remains possible.
How to Succeed in E-Commerce
According to Credit Suisse, consumer marketing spending will increase in 2018 with an emphasis placed on sales promotion. These promotions usually aim at providing additional incentives to complete a purchase or to increase sales in the short term. Furthermore, Credit Suisse highlights the increasing number of communication channels available to retailers and, as previously mentioned, the underestimated potential of online sales. The trend thus seems to point towards a promotion-oriented consumer marketing that makes use of new mediums such as online channels and takes into account the growing e-commerce sector.
Marketing strategies based on product-feeds are a good example for retailers and e-commerce platforms to implement such promotion-oriented online campaigns. These are based on a retailer or e-shop’s product feed, which contains information about the attributes of each product on offer. This information is used to create dynamic advertisements for product or promotion-based marketing campaigns. The products can be exchanged by a simple mouse click according to the promotion that is currently ongoing, and information like special prices can easily be adapted.
Credit Suisse: “Retail Outlook 2018: Der Detailhandel hinkt der Konjunktur hinterher”
NetComm Suisse: “Swiss E-commerce & Digital Consumer Behavior 2017”
Verband des Schweizerischen Versandhandels (VSV): “Medienmitteilung 20. Februar 2018: Schweizer Online-Konsum wächst 2017 um 10%”
“Online- und Versandhandelsmarkt Schweiz 2017” Präsentation von Patrick Kessler und Thomas Hochreutener