How to Start a Successful Ecommerce Business in France
The French e-commerce market is full of sales potential for budding entrepreneurs. As of 2020, France has the 6th largest ecommerce market in the world and the 3rd largest in Europe—just behind the UK and German e-commerce markets. Compared to most G20 countries, it’s cheaper, quicker and easier to set up a business in France.
A Snapshot of The French Market
France has a population of over 65 million people with an internet penetration of 84%. Around 80% of French people shop online, translating to 52 million potential customers.
There’s good news for retail businesses seeking to sell to French consumers from other countries: 52% of online shoppers in France buy products online from abroad. You’re entering a very tech-savvy market, and the popularity of ecommerce in the region continues to grow each year.
What French Online Shoppers Want
Curious to know what the typical ecommerce shopper in France is actually looking for? Let’s break it down.
French people are extremely proud of their native language, and, like everyone else, they search the web in their native tongue. This means that it’s extremely important to write and interact in French to provide the best user experience—and the best ranking in Google and other search engines.
The good news is that when you translate and localise your website for France, you will also reach French-speaking consumers in other countries:
- French Guiana
- Francophone Africa
- French-speaking islands around the world
If you’re located outside of France, you can also capitalise on the French language by translating your existing site. As 52% of French internet users shop abroad (mostly in the UK, China and Germany), they might just stumble upon your site.
While online shopping has become a necessity during the COVID-19 pandemic, French shoppers still appreciate businesses that have a physical store. If you want to be successful in the French market, consider a multi-channel strategy that involves a physical and online store.
If you’re a sole trader and can’t afford to set up a physical storefront, you can also sell products on any top French online marketplace:
- RueDuCommerce (Carrefour)
- PriceMinister (Rakuten)
Wide Range of Products
French consumers buy a wide range of products online from both large and small online merchants. The largest categories of goods purchased online in France are:
- Clothing and footwear
- Home electronics
- Children’s items
For overseas businesses selling to the French market, consider selling auto parts and accessories for the home and garden in addition to popular product categories like clothes, shoes, electronics and accessories, as French customers regularly buy these items abroad.
Pricing is important to French shoppers and is one of the three principal things that consumers look for when making a decision about online sales.
Many French shoppers compare prices for non-grocery goods online and would be unlikely to buy a product that is priced significantly above its competitors.
Online shoppers in France are very exacting when it comes to their online experience. When they browse active e-commerce sites, French shoppers are looking for a personalised interface, personalised user experience, and polite and respectful customer service.
To meet the expectations of your potential online customers, consider using automated solutions to personalise your website to the customer including upsells and cross-sells (“other customers who viewed this product also bought…”), chatbots when live sales representatives aren’t available and website personalisation based on artificial intelligence.
French residents who shop with online retailers pay in a variety of ways, and they specifically seek out businesses that offer reliable payment methods. Debit and credit cards remain the most popular payment method, but some customers choose a different preferred payment method:
- 57% – bank card, credit or debit cards (Visa, Mastercard, American Express)
- 25% – electronic transfer methods (PayPal)
- 9% – bank transfer
- 2% – cash
Fast, Reliable Shipping
The final feature that French consumers expect is convenient, fast and reliable shipping. While most French people prefer home delivery (83%) for their online purchases, some also like to collect their parcels from a pick-up-and-go location (66%) or opt for delivery instore (26%).
At the checkout, it’s best to offer multiple delivery options as well as multiple shipping options. If everyone can choose their preferred delivery method and be assured of prompt delivery, you’ll have fewer abandoned shopping carts.
Shipping costs must also be clearly disclosed during checkout. The three most trusted shipping brands are La Poste, Collissimo and Chronopost. Be sure to offer tracking on each parcel no matter where it will be delivered, as it’s important to French online consumers to know where their parcels are at all times.
How to Get Started in the French Marketplace
If you’re excited at the thought of expanding your online business into the French market, there are several things you need to know about how to start an e-commerce business in France:
- Research your market thoroughly. The French population is savvy when it comes to online shopping, but the competition is also high. Find out exactly which demographic you would like to target and the products they are most likely to buy. Then prepare a detailed business plan.
- Choose your business category. In France, there are five categories of business. Most online shops will fall under the first category:
- Commercial or industrial (including e-commerce)2. Trades and artisan3. Independent professional4. Commercial agent
- Decide whether you will function as a sole proprietor or a corporation. Sole traders and companies have different liability structures that are important to be aware of. Sole traders (enterprise individuelle) in France pay income tax and are usually an EIRL, whereas companies (sociétés) pay corporate tax and can be structured as a EURL, SARL, SA or SAS.
- Research your intended trade name and domain. Check your company name with the Institut National de la Propriété Industrielle (INPI) and register your business name and logo as a trademark dépôt de marque. You can check whether your .fr domain name is available through AFNIC.
- Get help with the paperwork. Gather the required information about preparing incorporation documents, filing with the Trade Register, registering for a VAT-ID and tax number and following applicable labour laws. You will most likely need a lawyer and accountant to help you get set up and to provide valuable business advice. They can help you with the complexities of cross-border ecommerce or just thriving in the French ecommerce market.
- Buy a domain. Domains in France end in “.fr” and require you to have a French address. If your company name is available on AFNIC and you’ve secured a physical address in France, you can go ahead and purchase the desired domain for your e-commerce website.
- Create a responsive e-commerce website. Your website should be optimised for desktop and mobile devices. About 28% of French consumers shop on mobile commerce—which is a lower percentage than UK shoppers—but this segment is steadily growing, and you want to capture this valuable market segment. Every customer should enjoy a smooth, user-friendly purchasing process, and this smooth process can be achieved with the right ecommerce software — popular options include BigCommerce, WooCommerce, and Shopify.
- Set up a secure payment gateway and merchant account. A merchant account is needed for accepting most types of online payments. Find a merchant services provider with experience in the European Union to help you navigate taxation and export laws.
- Market your site. Once you’re ready to launch, make your brand known. Use a multi-pronged advertising strategy to capture the 55 million active internet users and 32 million social media users in France.
- Join the FEVAD. France is a global leader when it comes to unionisation, and the FEVAD is France’s union for e-commerce and distance sales. While membership is not compulsory for French businesses, FEVAD’s insights for e-commerce entrepreneurs in France can help you stay on the cutting edge.
Expand Your Horizons With Retail Ecommerce Sales in France
The key to starting a successful e-commerce business in France is focusing on French customer expectations. French language, personalisation and fast and convenient shipping are three of the most important features when selling goods online in France.
If you think this booming European market could be a good opportunity for your e-commerce business, research your market thoroughly and develop a high-quality store. Your efforts should reap great rewards as you win the loyalty—and euros—of the French.
Your French opportunity awaits.