As with any other member of the European Union, France offers a direct access to the single European market and its partners. But the country has much more to offer. With the second-largest consumer market of the continent, and one that is also open and diversified, France is a major industrial power with a qualified and adaptable workforce. Its political environment is stable and the different governments have all pursue a policy of making the country an attractive place for direct investment. And with its gastronomy, awarded UNESCO World Heritage status, you might even enjoy doing research on the ground. A lot of research.
Foreign investors interested in the French market should be aware that their taxation rate is still one of the highest in the world. But the country also offers attractive operating costs and high-quality communication infrastructure, which help explain why so many of the largest companies in the world have decided to settle down there.
France is a modern and open market, and one of the main economic powers of the world. Its workforce can be costly, but it is one of the most effective and its economy has been planned to provide support to foreign investors. In this guide, we will guide you through the process of reaching France’s consumers, successfully making sales on ecommerce channels, and getting your products to reach the desired consumers.
France, with its ageing population, is a country in which buying most often equals pleasure. France is famous for its high consumption of leisure and cultural products and gifts. The French consumer is relatively affluent and impulsive, makes frequent purchases and likes to try new and innovative products. As regards foodstuffs, the French are more likely to buy domestic products and are increasingly concerned about the environment and their health (booming organic products).
Social media advertising spend in France stood at US$.5 billion by end of 2015, accounting for 10.5% of total online advertising. During 2011-2015, Social media advertising in the country has increased at a CAGR of 41.9%. This growth is expected to continue in 2016 with brands expected to spend US$.7 billion, representing an increase of 33.7% over 2015. Over the forecast period (2016-2020), Socintel360 expects Social media advertising spend to grow at a CAGR of 27.3% to reach US$1.9 billion in 2020, accounting for 30.2% of the total online advertising spend. 
The French ecommerce market has over 182,000 active websites, and that number is expected to reach 200,000 by 2017. Today, online shoppers purchase travel packages (32%), clothing (10%), home equipment (7%), click and collect products (7%), and cultural products (5%). The click and collect option for grocery stores has grown significantly in the past years and grocers are adding a greater number of sites offering this purchasing option. Clothing items are the primary product purchased on mobile phones followed by technology products. 
Online shopping sales increase during November and December due to the holiday season.
French B2C commerce of products and services is one of the largest markets in the world, ranking second in Europe and fifth in the world in terms of online consumption in 2016. The market grew by 14% between 2015 and 2016 representing a good opportunity for U.S. retailers that have unique products and services to offer. U.S. firms tend to do well selling products and services to the French via eCommerce. In fact, although the U.S. has a trade deficit with Europe, digital services, including eCommerce sales, are where we see a significant trade surplus of $71 billion for the year ending in 2015.
The U.S. Commercial Service sees the French eCommerce market as a sizable opportunity for U.S. retailers in virtually every category. The French are fond of American culture and tend to enjoy our brands. Many firms begin by testing the market directly from their U.S. site, or using Amazon or a similar French marketplace to gauge interest. Online marketplaces are beginning to disrupt industries where traditionally starting with a distributor or sales agent would have been advisable.
For U.S. SMEs operating without a presence in Europe, it is important to understand the basic rules and regulations for selling to consumers in the market. While we expect that the Digital Single Market strategy (see below) will assist U.S. firms in adhering to one single set of rules and regulations across Europe, U.S. firms currently must navigate national and European regulations and standards for selling products online. The French tend to interpret existing EU regulations stringently, or tend to regulate in areas where the EU has not yet proposed legislation. For example, several recent online players, both U.S. and European, have been fined in France for violating rules such as the protection of consumer’s data privacy or advertising “online sales” outside of permitted holiday periods.
When approaching the EU market, U.S. Commercial Service recommends starting small and selecting the markets that show the most potential. France may be attractive not only because of the size of the market, but the effect that Brexit may have on currency fluctuations and shipping costs from the UK to the rest of the continent. If a firm determines that the French market represents a good opportunity, seek out local service providers and experts that can help with a digital marketing strategy. The U.S. Commercial Service in Paris can be a good starting point. Current Market Trends
A couple of trends are becoming more important in the B2C ecommerce, including m-commerce (smartphones and tablets), the “click-and-collect” or “click-and-reserve” options, the multichannel approach (web-to-store or store-to-web), the CtoC and social commerce.
The “click-and-collect” option for general products and grocery stores in particular has grown significantly in the past years and food grocers for example are implementing larger number of sites offering this purchasing option. The “premium” delivery subscription, just like Amazon Premium, is also developing at a fast pace. The “click-and-reserve” option is well received and already widely used in the fashion sector.
The sharing economy and its platforms are also trending in France with 60% of internet users using it for renting homes, car sharing, grouping purchases from producers (i.e. vegetables), with popular global brands such as Airbnb and Uber and local players such as BlaBla Car.
Another growing trend for e-merchants is the use of market places; their sales grew by 46% in one year and represent 26% of their total sales volume. Marketplaces now account for 9% of online purchasing and are estimated to represent more than $3.3 billion (€ 3 billion) in sales.
The shared economy has not bypassed France, with 60% buying or selling products directly with each other on websites such as Le Bon Coin. 
In 2016, almost 37 million French people shopped online, which represents 80% of internet users. The average online transaction in 2016 was around $77 (€70) and online shoppers tend to shop more frequently, approximately 28 times a year, for a total amount spent of around $2,213 (€2,000) in 2016. Online shoppers purchase mainly clothing (57%), cultural products (52%), travel packages (43%), and high tech products (42%). Most of the sales volume, however, occurs in tourism (32%), clothing (10%), home equipment (7%) and click-and-collect grocery products (7%). 
Market summary Cards are the main payment type in France – 76.6% of transactions, with 65.6% provided by local banks, led by Visa provider Carte Bleue. Second most common is e-wallets, representing 11.2%. PayPal holds the major share at 10.4%.
Ownership of mobile devices in France sits below the global average, with just 40% of shoppers using smartphones and 12% tablets. Spending on these devices is equivalently low, 7% spent via smartphones, 3% via tablets and just 1% of total online spending done via mobile. Around a third (28%) of shoppers express their intention to spend using this platform in the coming year. 
B2C shopping abroad is also becoming more popular; there is a growing share of cross-border online purchases taking place, although not as high as in other parts of Europe. In 2016, 46 % of French online shoppers bought from foreign e-merchants and 50% of e-merchants established in France received orders from customers located abroad.
Allopass: specialises in pay-per-phone and pay-per-SMS (text message) payment methods. Bank Transfers, Cash on Delivery, CM-CIC Paiemanet, Hippay, Moneo, Slimpay. 
Just over 20% of French companies make purchases electronically (via a website 7% or via a digital data exchange system-EDI – 11%) which represents 18% of the total amount of sales to professionals (B2B). This market accounts for $553 billion and is expected to grow significantly in the next coming years. In 2015, most of the transactions were made in travel and transportation purchases (53%), followed by a few sectors such as boating equipment and supplies (33%), computer supplies (30%), medical supplies (25%).
While the Modernization Law of the French Administration (LME) mandated e-Invoicing reception for the French State (Ministries and related bodies) since the 1st January 2012 , the Simplification law (article 1) voted on October 4th, 2013, mandates all Economic Operators (private sector) to send electronic invoices to the public sector, from January 1st, 2017.
France is a strong defender of intellectual property rights. US firms should refer to this Country Commercial Guide’s Intellectual Property section and the local Code of Intellectual Property for further information.
Popular ecommerce sites in France include Amazon, Cdiscount, Fnac, Ebay, Voyages SNCF (travel and train tickets) and Price Minister.
All forms of ecommerce are available in France. Many companies sell products and services on the internet and use electronic data interchange (EDI) with customers/suppliers. There are a number of business-to-business (B2B) electronic-trading platforms. France is also experimenting in several cities with near-field communications (NFC), a short-range wireless technology whereby mobile phones can be used as payment and identification devices.
No local entity is required in France, although (as is the case with most Eurozone countries), an EU entity is mandatory. For Visa and MasterCard, a connection to a local acquirer is also recommended as usually this results in higher authorization rates. 
In France, 80% of online purchases are paid using debit cards tied to their bank account. The French are not accustomed to using credit cards to pay with credit. The French use other means of online payments which include electronic wallets (42%), gift vouchers (28%), virtual bank cards (16%), installment payments at no charge (15%), and 14% by direct debit authorization. Note when shopping outside of the EU, French consumers must pay an import fee for any goods purchased with the price above 22 Euros.
Many retailers in France are making mobile a priority, the report revealed, with the result that over 50% of their transactions now come via that channel. Overall, the websites of French retailers optimized for mcommerce posted a conversion rate of 3.1%, compared with 1.5% for nonoptimized sites. Apps also played a major role as aids to mobile purchasing, Criteo indicated. Apps generated 47% of retailers’ mobile revenues during the period assessed, and 42% of last-minute mobile travel bookings were made with an app.
Multichannel shopping is increasingly common, too. Criteo found that 40% of digital purchases by residents in France involved at least two platforms or devices. Using multiple devices didn’t mean that consumers were abandoning familiar retailers, though. In 46% of cases, shoppers simply used several devices to consult the same retailer more than once before making a purchase. And even if consumers did most of their research on a desktop or laptop PC, 23% actually bought on a smartphone or tablet. 
In 2015, 6.6 million people made a purchase through their mobile phone, representing a total market of $7 billion. Sales on mobile phones and tablets continue to grow very fast and they already account for 25% of total sales on the major eCommerce platforms.
The major holidays driving purchases in France include Christmas, Mother’s Day (last Sunday of May), Father’s Day (second to last Sunday in June), and Valentine’s Day. In addition, seasonal sales (“les soldes”) run for six weeks in early January and again in the summer from late June. The popular American sales date of “Black Friday” does not exist in France. The dates for sales moreover, whether online or in stores, are determined by French Trade Law.
Social media is becoming significantly relevant for French users. The trend for firms is to be present products on various social media platforms, and to continue being active with content and recommendations. Facebook is still the premier choice for e-merchants followed by Instagram and Twitter. In France, monthly visitor to popular social media sites are as follows:
Creating a Digital Single Market (DSM) is one of the ten priorities of the European Commission (EC). The overall objective is to bring down barriers, regulatory or otherwise, and to unlock online opportunities in Europe, from ecommerce to e-government. By doing so, the EU hopes to do away with the current 28 fragmented markets and create one borderless market with harmonized legislation and rules for the benefit of businesses and consumers alike throughout Europe. Although the primary goal is to foster innovation and assist European SMEs, U.S. firms are poised to also benefit from the single digital market concept.
The EC set out its vision in its May 6, 2015 DSM Strategy which has been followed by many concrete legislative proposals and policy actions. They are broad reaching and include reforming ecommerce sector, VAT, copyright, audio-visual media services, consumer protection, and telecommunications laws. Most of these proposals are currently going through the legislative process. DSM-related legislation will have a broad impact on U.S. companies doing business in Europe.
For more information, visit the European Country Commercial Guide or the following links: Digital single market
DSM Strategy: A Digital Single Market Strategy for Europe
The French regulatory environment is following the European Union “Electronic Commerce Directive (2000/31/EC) as mentioned in the section “Direct Marketing” above, providing rules for online services in the EU. It requires providers to abide by rules in the country where they are established (country of origin). Online providers must respect consumer protection rules such as providing contact details on their website, clearly identifying advertising and protecting registrants against spam. The Directive also grants exemptions to liability for intermediaries that transmit illegal content by third parties and for unknowingly hosting content. The European Commission released a work plan in 2012 to facilitate cross-border online services and reduce barriers and released a report on implementation of the action plan in 2013.
Key Link: Boosting ecommerce in the EU
Current Situation: The New General Data Privacy Regulation
The EU data privacy framework is currently going through a legislative transition.
The currently applicable legislation is the Data Protection Directive (95/46/EC) adopted in 1995. It spells out strict rules concerning the processing of personal data. Businesses must tell consumers that they are collecting data, what they intend to use it for, and to whom it will be disclosed. Data subjects must be given the opportunity to object to the processing of their personal details and to opt-out of having them used for direct marketing purposes. This opt-out should be available at the time of collection and at any point thereafter.
On May 4, 2016, the EU adopted a new piece of legislation called the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR). The GDPR will replace the 1995 Data Privacy Directive. However, there will be two-year transition period to allow companies and organizations (including those U.S. entities that receive data from European customers) to comply with the numerous new requirements introduced. The transition period will end on May 25, 2018.
The GDPR is broad in scope and applies to all companies who collect, process, and/or store the personal data of European citizens regardless of whether a company has a physical presence in Europe or directly provides goods or services to European customers.
Among the many requirements are: erasure for data subjects, an obligation for organizations to obtain “affirmative and unambiguous” consent for processing personal data, an obligation to report personal data breaches, the requirement under certain circumstances to conduct a privacy impact assessment before processing personal data, and for organizations that fill certain criteria, the mandatory appointment of a Data Protection Officer.
Companies are strongly encouraged to do due diligence and seek legal advice from an attorney specializing in European data privacy law to ensure they comply with this legislation. France’s data protection authority (CNIL), strictly monitors and enforces the laws regarding the protection of French citizen’s personal data. There are many recent firms that have been fined in France due to their lack of adherence to the current data privacy regulations. Fines in case of non-compliance could reach four percent of the annual global revenue of the company after May 2018.
Full GDPR text
Official press release
Transferring Customer Data to Countries outside the EU
The EU’s current Data Protection Directive, which will be fully replaced by the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) as of May 25, 2018, provides for the free flow of personal data within the EU but also for its protection when it leaves the region’s borders.
The GDPR (Chapter 5 – Article 44 onwards) sets out obligations on data controllers (those in charge of deciding what personal data is collected and how/why it is processed), on data processors (those who act on behalf of the controller) and gives rights to data subjects (the individuals to whom the data relates). These rules were designed to provide a high level of privacy protection for personal data, and were complemented by measures to ensure the protection is maintained when data leaves the region, whether it is transferred to controllers, processors or to third parties (e.g. subcontractors). EU legislators put restrictions on transfers of personal data outside of the EU, specifying that such data could only be exported if “adequate protection” is provided.
The European Commission (EC) is responsible for assessing whether a country outside the EU has a legal framework that provides sufficient protection for it to issue an “adequacy finding” to that country. The U.S. has never sought to be found adequate by the EC. This means that U.S. companies can only receive personal data from the EU if they:
European Commission’s webpage on transfers outside the EU and all mechanisms outlined below:
The ecommerce sales for buying products on the internet is well embedded in French consumerism and France is the third largest ecommerce market in Western Europe. Driven by a long history of traditional mail order the supporting logistics market is well developed with strong competition to the local postal incumbent (La Poste). In terms of delivery cost France lags behind other European countries like Germany and the Benelux and, in part, this efficiency disadvantage has been ‘circumvented’ by delivery to Pick-Up Point avoiding the cost of the last half-mile. Cross-border commerce is still only a fraction of total and in many cases the returns management and reverse logistics is considered to be a main prohibitive factor.
Reverse Logistics Return ratios for online sales range from 7% for general goods to 15 % for electronics and over 40% for fashion. For over 70% of online shoppers an easy returns solution is a key decision factor in their buying decision. Returns, or rather the ease of same, therefore; drive sales.
What distant sellers need to realize primarily in the electronics and battery area is that it is obligatory to register the quantity of items that are put to market. The so called European WEEE regulation obliges manufacturers and retailers to be registered and report also the items that are taken back from the market. In many cases there are also options to prevent items ending up to be classified as waste and create a second life with specialized refurbishing companies. Britcom is a key player in domestics appliances and smaller electronics, but there are also good options via Ebay. 
Of the top delivery methods in France, home delivery is the most popular and chosen by 83% of consumers. However, other methods are also popular: in second place is the cheaper option of delivery to a pick-up point; whereas click and collect comes in third, which can allow consumers to obtain the product quickly and even try it before finalising the purchase.
The standard VAT rate for importing items into France is 20%, with certain products attracting VAT at a reduced rate of 10%, and some at a super reduced rate of 5.5% or 2.1%. VAT is calculated on the value of the goods, plus the international shipping costs and insurance, plus any import duty due.
Privacy and Data Protection The Law on Privacy Protection in relation to the Processing of Personal Data was issued in France in 1978 (Act 78-17 of 6 January 1978 on Data Processing, Data Files and Individual Liberties). The European Directive on this subject was only published three years later, on 24 October 1995, and France transposed it into national legislation by the Law issued on 6 August 2004. The French regulations, with regard to the use of “cookies” and other similar techniques, are included in the Law on Privacy Protection and have received further interpretation by the French Privacy Commission (the CNIL).
Consumer Protection The consumer protection in the context of ecommerce under French law is mainly regulated by the Law issued on 22 June 2004 for the Trust in Digital Economy. It contains matters such as rules on advertising, labelling, price indication, e-contracting and other information to be provided to the consumer, as well as on the publication of online content. The European rules on distance selling and distant selling of financial products have been transposed separately and included into the French Consumer Code. The rules on unsolicited communications have been incorporated into the Postal and Electronic Communications Code.
Digital Signatures and Authentication In 2000, several provisions of the French civil code have been modified in order to make electronic documents and signatures legally acceptable. In 2004, the Law in the Trust in Digital Economy has regulated the liability of certification service providers issuing qualified digital certificates.
Custom and Duties If goods are imported from outside the EU, import duties may become due based on the tariff classification, customs value and origin of the goods. VAT shall become due upon importation from non-EU countries when the goods are to be declared for use within this country. The customs/VAT warehousing procedure allows the storage of goods without such goods being subject to import duties (neither VAT nor customs duties are due). A non-EU taxable person who imports goods into France in his own name must register for VAT purposes and appoint a fiscal representative. A taxable person established outside this country, but within an EU Member State, can either register directly for VAT, or register through the appointment of a tax representative.
More in-depth information (including sources) about ecommerce law, privacy and data protection, consumer protection, digital signature, custom and duties, electronic contracting, computer crime and intellectual property can be found in the Cross-border Ecommerce Report – France 
France is one of nineteen countries (known collectively as the Eurozone) that use the euro currency. Exchange rate policy for the euro is handled by the European Central Bank in Frankfurt, Germany. After spending most of 2013 and the first half of 2014 in the range of USD 1.30 to USD 1.40, the euro began to fall against the dollar in mid-2014, reaching a low USD 1.05 in March 2015. During 2015 and first quarter 2016, the euro vacillated between USD 1.05 and USD 1.15. France’s investment remittance policies are stable and transparent. All inward and outward payments must be made through approved banking intermediaries by bank transfers. There is no restriction on the repatriation of capital. Similarly, there are no restrictions on transfers of profits, interest, royalties, or service fees. Foreign-controlled French businesses are required to have a resident French bank account and are subject to the same regulations as other French legal entities. The use of foreign bank accounts by residents is permitted.