Volume of e-commerce transactions has leapt up during pandemic

  • 2022-01-26
  • BNS/TBT Staff

TALLINN - E-purchases by residents of Estonia averaged 6 million euros a month in the fourth quarter of 2021, with a total turnover of 249 million euros. 

There were 31 percent more e-purchases in the fourth quarter than there were in the same quarter of the previous year, while the turnover was up by 59 percent, the Bank of Estonia said.

Tiina Soosalu, specialists at the central bank's payment and settlement systems department, said that the e-commerce market was already expanding in previous years, but it has seen sharp growth since the Covid-19 pandemic started. This is partly a consequence of the pandemic crisis and the restrictions that were imposed because of it.

"People started to turn to online traders for goods that would only rarely have been bought over the internet before, such as food and medicines. People had to move over to working from home and remote studies at the start of the pandemic, which increased online purchases of computers and other technical equipment, and of household fittings and furniture," she said.

At the start of the pandemic people were looking to buy large supplies of essential goods and food, but merchants say that online shopping has now become more rational. A notable part was played in the increase in online purchases in the final months of last year, as it was in consumption overall, by the funds withdrawn from the second pension pillar.

"Some sectors, such as culture, tourism and transport, remain unfortunately unable to provide all of their services in full, and the sales figures for those sectors, including their online sales, fell dramatically at the start of the pandemic and have not yet recovered," Soosalu noted.

Shoppers have started to prefer Estonian e-stores more in recent years, and in the fourth quarter 58 percent of all e-purchases were made from Estonian e-stores.  An average of 138 million euros a month was spent in local e-stores in the fourth quarter, which was 70 million more than in the fourth quarter of 2019. 

Some 111 million euros was spent in foreign e-stores in the quarter, which was 50 million euros more than at the same time two years earlier. The average size of e-purchases in the fourth quarter was 42 euros, with purchases from Estonia averaging 40 euros and those from abroad averaging 44 euros. Two years earlier the average e-purchase from Estonia was for 47 euros, and those from abroad averaged 46 euros.

The very rapid growth in e-commerce is underlined by the numbers of packages sent to parcel machines. Data from the Estonian E-Commerce Association show that more than 12 million parcels were sent to parcel machines in 2021, which was 33 percent more than a year earlier.

This change has probably been caused by a combination of the restrictions and changes in people's habits, together with the improvement in the options for shopping online.

"Although shops in Estonia have now opened their doors again, many people continue to buy food and other basic necessities from online stores as it is convenient and it works well, especially in the larger towns. Shops adapted quickly to the new circumstances, and many set up their e-channels right at the start of the pandemic," Soosalu said.

The most common way of buying in Estonia is through bank link payment orders. Payment initiation services based on open banking have also become popular alongside bank links. Bank link payment orders and open banking payments were used for 53 percent of all the e-purchases made in Estonia in the fourth quarter, and they accounted for 76 percent of turnover. While there is no particular difference between these two forms of payment for those paying, there are some technical differences between the two solutions.

The options for paying in e-stores in installments have become more varied. An average of 11,600 purchases with installments were made each month in the fourth quarter from e-stores, with a total turnover of 6.7 million euros. The average purchase with installments from an e-store in the fourth quarter was for 574 euros. Although installments are used less often than other forms of payment, it is becoming increasingly popular as a way of paying.

"Alongside the traditional way of paying in installments, service providers are offering the purchasers the option of buy now, pay later, and they say that this is becoming increasingly popular. This option allows the client to receive the goods immediately and pay for them over subsequent months in interest-free installments. A further advantage of this for the purchaser is the legal right to return goods within 14 days that allows them to test the goods out before they have to start paying for them," Soosalu said.

A report on the e-commerce market in Europe observed that an estimated 76 percent of residents of Estonia make e-purchases. This share has increased during the pandemic, as there were 10 percentage points fewer online shoppers five years ago. The populations with the largest share of online shoppers are in the United Kingdom at 92 percent, the Netherlands at 91 percent, and Denmark at 90 percent. The smallest shares are a little over half of the population in some southern European countries, with 56 percent in Portugal, 54 percent in Italy, and 52 percent in Cyprus. Fewer than half of the people living in Bulgaria and Romania make purchases online.

The report describes the experiences of different countries, which are quite similar in the rapid change in volumes of e-purchases and in how the pandemic has affected different sectors. Sales volumes over the internet have increased everywhere for food and medicines, and also for sporting goods, domestic appliances and home furnishings. It is also noted that older people have started to make more e-purchases as well. A key factor for that age group is probably that shopping online reduces the health risks for them.

The figure for e-purchases is found from online purchases of goods and services that are made with bank cards issued in Estonia, through bank links, or as open banking payments. Since the start of 2021 it has included purchases paid for in installments. E-purchase payments for goods and services such as entertainment or transport tickets are estimated from the bank link transactions and open banking transactions.

The indicator does not cover lottery tickets or other payments for gambling, state taxes and fees, or payments for financial services like insurance premiums or loan repayments. E-purchases made with a bank card also include payments using smartphone apps such as takeaway food orders or rent of electric scooters.