By Hervé Crochet, Group E-commerce Director at DPDgroup

May is upon us along with its bank holidays! The UK celebrates May Day, the first Monday of the month; countries across Europe recognise the 1st as Labour Day; and China prepares for two feast days a week apart: Labour Day followed by Mother’s Day. To prepare these festivities, shoppers around the globe will be busy making purchases in store and online. With this in mind, what should the UK retailer and e-tailer understand to successfully tap into this vast customer base? Let’s deep dive into five notable areas of comparison.

Volumes bought online

As the largest and most mature ecommerce market in the world, China has long embraced the practice of shopping on the internet; since the beginning of 2021, 95% of Chinese e-shoppers have bought goods online at least once. On average, they make 90 e-purchases per year – approximately two purchases every week. ​Their reasons for doing so include saving time and money as well as avoiding the stress of in-person shopping. Despite the maturity of the Chinese ecommerce market, the COVID-19 crisis still proved to be a powerful growth driver for most product categories, especially food and beverages.

In comparison, 86% of all online purchases in Europe are made by regular e-shoppers who represent 48% of the total e-shopper population. These regular e-shoppers make as much as 15.5% of all their purchases online with an average of 66 e-purchases per year. The United Kingdom leads all countries across the European continent in terms of e-retail development and displays even higher figures: 56% of e-shoppers in the UK are regular e-shoppers and make an average of 73 purchases online per year. As in China, the health crisis caused a significant increase in online shopping with food and beverages experiencing the highest growth.

An influential shopper

Among Chinese, British and European e-shoppers, one group is particularly influential. These are the heavy e-shoppers in China and their western counterpart, the aficionados. Though China’s heavy online buyers only account for 14% of total e-shoppers, they represent a surprising 40% of all online shopping. They receive an average of 14 parcels a month. ​Passionate about purchasing on the net, these shoppers are loyal brand addicts who lead busy, connected lives and are primarily drawn to online shopping for its practicality, even more so than most e-shoppers. In Europe, the aficionados also account for 14% of total e-shoppers (19% in the UK) yet represent 31% of all online purchases. They receive 10 parcels on average per month. As in China, these e-shoppers are experienced and passionate, active and highly connected. And it’s worth noting they are a key driving force behind online food purchases, a category that’s seen the greatest growth since the pandemic.

Consideration for the environment

When it comes to sustainability, Chinese heavy e-shoppers are particularly aware of environmental issues, with 85% buying eco-friendly products whenever possible and 84% willing to pay a premium for sustainable products and services. They care about the carbon footprint of their purchases, and this includes delivery: 19% consider a lack of low-emission delivery options to be dissuasive.

In contrast, Europe’s aficionados are less concerned by the environment than another profile: the epicurean e-shopper. Epicureans accounts for 13% of all online buyers. They make fewer purchases than aficionados, buying 3.6 parcels per month and consider ecommerce a way to simplify their busy lives. They are highly sensitive to sustainability and feel that buying responsibly means choosing environmentally respectful products as well as favouring eco-friendly delivery companies and services. This remains true even if it means paying more: 79% are more likely to opt for a website that offers low-emission or other sustainable delivery options.

Receiving and returning

In terms of delivery and returns, 70% of Chinese e-shoppers are generally satisfied with the ease of their online shopping experience as well as 72% for their latest delivery. However, the returns process clearly has room for improvement: only 44% consider that returning their most recent online purchase was easy. In comparison, British and European regular e-shoppers are slightly more satisfied, be it with the online shopping experience (73%), their latest delivery (75%) or their most recent returns experience (55%).

When it comes to the specifics of delivery, only 49% of Chinese e-shoppers cited home as their preferred delivery location, whereas a significant 39% cited parcel lockers or parcel shops. Thus, one possible remedy for dissatisfaction among Chinese e-shoppers is to cater to their specific needs, such as flexible delivery locations and time slots.

Amazon packages piled up in a huge pile outside a home with car in the background

Greater precision and flexibility may also be a key to improve satisfaction in the United Kingdom. As 86% of UK shoppers state a clear preference for home delivery, knowing the exact one-hour delivery window as well as advance notifications have gained importance as compared to the previous year. As for returns, Chinese e-shoppers return products more readily than Europeans. In China, 24% of all e-shoppers and nearly 50% of heavy e-shoppers returned their last purchase whereas only 12% of European e-shoppers and 9% of aficionados returned their last online buy.

The delivery agent

A positive carrier image is important among the heaviest buyers across the UK and Europe, since 63% of aficionados consider it important to know the delivery company. This desire becomes crucial in China where 86% of all Chinese e-shoppers want to see the name of the delivery agent at check-out; for them it is a guarantee for quality of service. Unsurprisingly, this figure is even higher among heavy e-shoppers, 95% of whom require the name of the carrier at the moment of payment. This desire stems from the need to choose an agent that offers low-emission alternatives, provides a high-quality service or has not previously proven disappointing.


As we put these comparisons in perspective, China stands out as the world’s most mature ecommerce market, potentially providing a glance of where western online shopping is heading. We can expect aficionados, the equivalent of Chinese heavy shoppers, to increase their e-spending and whom e-retailers will need to attract and retain to succeed. As seen with food, the volumes of product categories purchased online will show greater growth and, therefore, value for UK e-retailers. In line with these increasing numbers, returns, a less interesting step for online players, will also grow, and a positive experience for e-shoppers will prove beneficial in the long run. When it comes to consumers’ lifestyles, online sellers will want to cater to their needs, partnering with carriers able to offer greater precision and flexibility in delivery. Finally, sustainability, a personal responsibility for all and a requirement for businesses, will eventually become a major e-shopper expectation for the full ecommerce chain from product to delivery.

In conclusion, many of the trends and habits we see today as emerging or developing in the UK and Europe are already full-fledged and commonplace practice in China; e-retailers wishing to penetrate this promising Asian market would therefore be wise to ensure their offering fully meets these standards. Equally and based on this premise, the unique traits Chinese online commerce displays nationally may provide a behind-the-curtain view of what’s next on stage in our western markets and a means for e-retailers to stay one step ahead in the game.

This article highlights the findings of DPDgroup’s 2021 e-shopper barometer. This year’s study based on 40,000 online interviews worldwide delves into e-shopping trends and behaviours across the globe.”

Published 28/04/2022




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