Italians Do It Worse

Jan. 10, 2013 | by Filippo Biondi

11 actions to coax the Italians off the high street and into e-commerce

As a Paid Search Analyst from Italy (I moved to Britain a few years ago), I’ve always been curious about the evolution of Italian e-commerce in comparison to the rest of EU. It’s been like watching a car crash; you’re horrified but you cannot stop looking. The percentage of Italians who bought something online in 2011, according to the EU data, is in fact as low as 15% of the total population, way below the 43% EU average and shockingly far from the United Kingdom 73% result. The only European countries doing worse are Romania, Bulgaria and Turkey.

Percentage of individuals aged 16 to 74 using the Internet for ordering goods or services 

The Stats

Italy has improved its performance year by year, but with very small steps. Between 2005 and 2011, the percentage of Italian e-commerce buyers has risen from 6% to 15%; in the same period Germany moved from 42% to 64%, Spain from 12% to 27% and the Czech Republic from 5% to 30%. More recently, there was almost no growth in Italian e-commerce between 2010 and 2012 due to the rising debt crisis and unemployment rates.

Italians don’t use the Web. Give them a reason to

As reported by the Italian National Institute of Statistics (, Italy is an old country. From 1989 to today, the percentage of the population over 65 has jumped from 14.7% to 20%, and the trend does not seem to be slowing down. This segment of the population leans away from the digital world; it’s new to them, they don’t know how to use it and they don’t really care. So, what to do? Italian customers need to be tempted by forbidden fruit:

  • Give them special discounts, vouchers and deals and they will come. If they can find it cheaper online they’ll be encouraged to buy it from your website. You could make those offers exclusive for the web. If they can’t find it cheaper anywhere else they will come to you, maybe reluctantly, but hopefully converting. Having a loyalty scheme would be even better: 10% off the next purchase would push them to come back and, perhaps more importantly, get them used to buying from you.
  • Keep the website structure simple, with a basic menu. Eye-tracking research will give you useful information on what to have on your page and where to put it.
  • Use colloquial terms. The Italian language can use very complex courtesy forms, but try to avoid them.
  • Try to make as clear as possible what is going to happen after any click. It’s better to have a “Buy now” call to action rather than a slightly more obscure “Add to basket”.
  • Delete all the non-fundamental information on the basket page (or set them as optional). You may want to collect some extra information, but if they get tired and don’t convert you’ll get none at all.

This may sound as though I am stating the obvious, but with a less savvy audience best practise becomes all the more important.

Italians are suspicious. Show them they can trust you

Italians, in general, don’t trust using their credit/debit cards online, as the stats above suggest. It’s not necessarily a paranoid behaviour. The Banks Lobby in Italy is quite powerful, and it’s not particularly friendly toward the consumers. As an example, this past year the Bank Lobby has been strongly fighting a law that would have given low income citizens a chance to access a “cost free” bank account. So, if you want to convince Italians to buy on your website give them reasons to trust you:

  • Spend some money on brand recognition: a very detailed Display Campaign will help your potential clients to recognise your brand; they will convert much more easily if they think you’re an “as seen on” brand.
  • Get in contact with one of the many Italian consumer associations and suggest collaborations. This could require some work (in order to fulfil criteria such as a good returns policy, transaction insurance etc.) but a simple “approved by” banner could quickly turn into a higher conversion rate.
  • Add your details. An Italian address will let them feel you are real, without necessarily having to come to you and knock at your door. You can use a mailbox service, if you don’t want to move to Italy. Although the weather, food and people are great.
  • Add an Italian speaking customer service line, with an accessible phone number. Many of those with Internet concerns will be absolutely ok to give their credit card details over the phone. Your customer centre could pay for itself quite quickly with additional Revenue.
  • Add a “pay on delivery” option. While not loved by sellers in the UK, the so called “contrassegno” is very popular in Italy, and it is a quite well known option since the pre-web era, when people used it while buying from mail-order catalogues. The concept is: “I will only pay you when I get the stuff”. It could sound paranoid, but people receiving a brick in a box instead of a phone are not unheard of in Italy.
  • Be present on Shopping Engines, and possibly on eBay and Amazon as a Power Seller. If they don’t trust you they’ll trust them.

One day all we Italians will buy online (or whatever will come next). For now let’s just try to get the best from what we have, possibly prioritising healthier markets.



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    Comments (4)

    • Filippo Biondi

      Thanks Gabrio :)Jan 17, 2013 04:26 pm

    • Filippo Biondi

      Hi Luca,
      Thank you for your feedback. I completely agree on facebook, we can debate around how strategic it can be for a Client, but there is no doubt being there will bring a proportionally higher potential in Italy.

      The love story between Italians and mobile phones is not a recent event. You can find a lot of information around this with a quick search, Italy has been an early adopter of the mobile technology, (assuming this source is correct, but I remember other stats confirming this) Italians buy more mobile phones than home phones since 1999.

      I am still not very warm on the current performance: 20% up YoY is a promising result, but we would need a 50% increase across several years in order to properly catch up. Anyway, in April we should have the official stats update, we'll see!Jan 17, 2013 04:22 pm

    • Luca

      nice study. I think the "recommended by" on the landing page is a very good point and in Italy the recommendations count more than in other countries to counter balance the luck of trust of italian users.
      Also another point is the use of Social Media and Facebook in particular. 1 out of 3 Italians are very keen in searching information about products and company in FB (Nielsen). According to Nielsen, italians spend more than 6 hours a month on FB(
      also interesting is the fact that 42% of italians use mobile phones and 20 millions with a smartphone ( 17, 2013 02:44 pm

    • Gabrio

      Bel post Filippo, completamente d'accordo!!!! Nice post Filippo, i totally agree with what you said! ;-)Jan 14, 2013 07:02 pm

    Please note: the opinions expressed in this post represent the views of the individual, not necessarily those of iCrossing.

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