CITC Export Guide to Italy

A Land of History Embracing the Future

It is believed Italy is responsible from introducing the world to ice cream, a technique Marco Polo brought back from China. And thanks to Italy’s openness to the world, the country is now a geographic honeypot with a highly diversified export structure and a strong manufacturing sector. Its workforce is also qualified, with experience in high-quality production and technical savoir-faire. Italy also hosts major trade shows, attracting buyers from all around the world, and its entrepreneurs are both creative and innovative.

The Federal Government of Italy has put in place various reforms in the past years to improve the country competitiveness. However, corruption and organised crime are still a problem and the weak enforcement of intellectual property rights can further hinder investments. Also, a foreign investor doing business in the North, more business-friendly, will have a totally different experience than if it was operating in the South, where unemployment is high. Still, the privatization program led by the government, with the liberalization of the energy and telecommunications markets, offers interesting avenues for investors. Italy also provides many benefits for investors, including tax advantages, investment loans at discounted rates on interest, state guarantee for exporters, and other financial aid, especially for those interested in the South.

In this guide, we will guide you through the process of reaching Italy’s consumers, successfully making sales on ecommerce channels, and getting your products to reach the desired consumers.

Trade Data

Marketing

The Italian Shoppers

Italian consumers tend to base their purchases on the quality of the item and the after sales service they will receive. Italians prefer packaging with clearly conveyed information. When given the choice, Italians prefer products ‘made in Italy’. Environmental criteria are less influential on decision-making. Novelty is welcomed, especially in the fashion sector. [1]

Digital Marketing

The power of the internet in Italy is limitless. Dissimilar to other forms of media, a website has the potential to reach anyone with online access, which is an estimated 950 million, or 15% of the worlds population. The internet transcends counties, countries and continents, meaning market restriction is not the problem it is in other forms of publicity.

The power of a good website in Italy is unbeatable. It can raise your businesss profile, making it look more prestigious, competent and successful. Conversely, it can also give your company a tawdry, unwelcoming, even laughable appearance. A good web development in Italy becomes fundamental. If you havent realised by now, cultural sensitivity is a pretty major factor when expanding a business in Italy. And its not just words and etiquette that have a profound impact on your businesss success. Indeed, the very symbols and logos you choose to employ can also increase or negate the profitability of your operations too. Online marketing in Italy must also take this into account. And it always comes back to research. Unlike in the UK, where pretty much anything goes, and symbols and images rarely connote things like misfortune or propitiousness, the same cannot be said for foreign countries. Here in the UK, we dont take symbols of luck and adversity too literally: its all horse-shoes, rabbit feet and walking under ladders. People more prevalently steeped in the historicism and traditions of their country, however, generally perpetuate the superstition and iconicity of the generations that preceded them. This often includes such simple things as colours, shapes and numbers. For instance, using the colour red in China is a sign of virtuousness; use white, however, and youre symbolising death. [2]

Social Media

Social networking in Italy is booming and 28 million Italians are active social media subscribers with 22 million active mobile accounts. 26 million Italians are active Facebook subscribers, a rising number of mobile surfers also utilize smartphones and tablets to take advantage of exclusive offers presented to them through social media. [3]

Major Shopping Categories

As for services bought online, the best performances were in travel and tourism (47% of the market value), insurance services (7.5%) and ticketing for events (5.5%). In terms of products bought online most transaction are in the information technology/consumer electronics (13%), followed by apparel (9%) and books/music/video (4%). Some of the sectors with the highest growth in 2015 are those in the food and grocery, furniture and home living and beauty products. [4]

Major Retail Holidays

Aside from the holiday season, there are two official Italian sales periods each year – winter and summer – when every shop has what can amount to clearance sales for 6-8 weeks. The winter sales period starts in January, usually near the beginning of the month, and lasts through mid-February or until inventory is gone. The summer sales begin in July, usually near the start of the month, and last through about mid-August or until inventory is gone. [5]

Sources

  1. Santander Trade “Reaching the Italian Consumer”
  2. Start-up Overseas “Online Marketing and Digital Media in Italy”
  3. Export.gov “Country Guide Italy”
  4. Export.gov “Country Guide Italy”
  5. Italy Explained “Shopping in Italy: Official Winter/Summer Sales”

eCommerce & Technology

Overview of the Italian eCommerce Market

E-commerce in Italy is developing rapidly and has registered annual two-digit growth over the past five years. Although the Italian digital economy lags behind other major European countries, e-commerce is poised to continue its upward trend in the next three years, with Business-to-Consumer (B2C), Business-to-Business (B2B), and Consumer-to-Consumer (C2C) transactions all posting solid growth. The turnover from e-commerce in Italy was estimated at $22 billion in 2016 [1], totaling a 32% growth over 2015. If online gambling services are taken into account, the total turnover from e-commerce reaches $34 billion. The online services segment is responsible for the majority of e-commerce revenue (54%), while the remaining 46% was generated from goods. [1]

Current Market Trends

The number of Italian web shoppers is constantly increasing, totaling 17.7 million out of 35.7 million internet users and growing. Italian firms are increasingly, if begrudgingly, turning to e-commerce platforms and marketing to sell their brands. Digital and mobile payment platforms are steadily increasing in Italy, as are the number of online e-commerce outlets. The main factors fueling the growth of e-commerce in Italy will continue to be improved Internet access infrastructure and wider availability of broadband connection; a mobile and smartphone diffusion among the highest in the world, which will enable both the business and consumer segments to take advantage of new technologies for e-commerce transactions; recognition of e-commerce as a means to provide better support to customers and suppliers; improved transaction security; and Italian legislation which recognizes the legal validity of digital signatures and digital contracts. [2]

Domestic eCommerce (B2C)

The B2C e-commerce market in Italy generated $21.4 billion in 2016, an increase of 18% over 2015. In addition, B2C e-commerce is expected to grow by 20% in 2017, reaching $25.5 billion.

The number of Italian web shoppers is constantly increasing, reaching 17.7 million, out of 35.7 million internet users in the country. In spite of the positive trends, in absolute terms the Italian B2C e-commerce market was still only worth one tenth of the market in the United Kingdom, one sixth of the German market and one fifth of the French market in 2016. The number of repeat shoppers (at least one purchase per month) is 11.1 million, with an average expenditure of $98 per transaction per personItalian e-commerce penetration over total retail expenditures increased from 4% in 2015 to 5% in 2016. However, in comparison with countries like UK, France and Germany e-commerce penetration reaches 15-20%, Italian rates are significantly lower

Contrary to other major European countries, where sales of products account for 65%-80% of the overall e-commerce market, the services sector in Italy totaled 54% in comparison to 46% for products. However, experts expect these numbers to reach European levels in the next few years, with products steadily increasing their share of electronic sales. With regard to services bought online, tourism is still the most popular e-commerce category in Italy (44% of the market value with 10% growth rate), followed by insurance services (7.5%) and ticketing for events (5.5%). In terms of products purchased online, information technology and consumer electronics dominate with a 15% market share and 15% growth rate, followed by clothing (10% market share and 27% growth) and publishing (7% market share and 16% growth). Emerging sectors including food, furniture/home decor, beauty and toys are growing between 30%-50%.  [3]

Cross-Border eCommerce

According to Postnord’s 2016 E-commerce in Europe Report, Italy has the lowest level of Internet penetration of all European countries. However, 58% of Internet users shop online, and more than half purchase from foreign companies, mainly buying home electronics, clothing and footwear, and books. The most popular foreign e-shops used by Italian customers are primarily located in the United Kingdom. (20%), Germany (16%), China (13%), and the United States (5%).

In terms of e-commerce sales, the presence of Italian companies in foreign markets is currently more significant within the European Union. 20% of Italian companies sell online in France, 18% in Germany and 15% in the United Kingdom. As far as extra EU countries are concerned, 10% of Italian companies sell to the United States, 8% to Asian countries (2% to China, 2% to Japan, and 4 % to other Asian markets), and 3% to South America.

Outside of the EU, the first market target for Italian companies is the United States (35%), followed by China (16%), other Asian markets (11%), and Japan (7%). The total volume of sales from Italian websites to Italian and foreign customers grew by 20% and reached $19.3 billion in 2016. In fact, 29% of overall online sales from Italian companies were generated abroad, with a 2% growth over 2015. However, for Italian companies with foreign subsidiaries or members of international groups, the percentage was much higher at 44%. For Italian companies selling abroad only via website, the turnover share originated from sales abroad was higher for companies with multilingual websites (35%), while it was considerably lower for those companies operating through websites only written in Italian (8%). [4]

B2B eCommerce

B2B eCommerce is integral in Italy.  According to the Milan Polytechnic, in 2015 the estimated total value of B2B e-commerce activities in Italy roughly amounted to $284 billion, equivalent to 10% of all B2B transactions.

Despite its rising trend, digitalization rates among Italian firms is quite low, and the majority of small- and medium-sized companies are far from embracing a transformation process which would improve and cut the costs of B2B relations. In 2015, only 75,000 companies used B2B tools (EDI – Electronic Data Interchange, Extranet, and B2B Portals) in their relationships with clients and suppliers, although the number of digital interactions is steadily rising. In addition, the obligation of delivering electronic invoices to the Italian Public Administration (PA) has resulted in a slight push towards digitalization for both private and State-owned companies.

The most common B2B e-commerce model is e-business, which entails the digitalization of corporate processes in conjunction with clients and suppliers (supplier selection, management of customer orders, after-sale services, etc.). In addition, over the last few years web portals for B2B e-commerce (similar to e-commerce B2C models) became increasingly popular, as well as B2B Marketplaces.

B2B e-commerce applications and e-procurement are registering continued growth. The most active players implementing B2B solutions are in the automotive, pharmaceutical, consumer goods, electronics and consumer electronics sectors. Specialized B2B applications in key “Made in Italy” sectors are also gaining momentum; there is an estimated 350 B2B platforms across different industries. Virtually all major Italian industrial groups utilize e-procurement and forecasts indicate that in the next few years up to 80% of all company purchases will be online.

The need for the Italian public sector to improve efficiency is driving the growth of e-procurement and significant developments are occurring in this field. In order to rationalize expenditures for goods and services, both the central and local Italian government offices utilize the Italian Public Administration eMarketplace (MEPA), an e-procurement platform managed by Consip SpA, the Italian Central Purchasing body, which 100 % owned by the Italian Ministry of Economy and Finance (MEF) through its division “Acquisti in Rete PA” (Public Procurement Online). MEPA connects Italian public bodies to thousands of suppliers throughout Italy.

The public sector utilizes e-sourcing to purchase information technology equipment and office supplies, furniture, uniforms, personal safety devices, vehicles and suppliers for healthcare. Electronic procurement of services is also growing, particularly in the areas of energy (fuel, electric power), printing services, vehicle rental, cleaning services and financial services.

For purchases with a value above the mandatory EU publication threshold, government bodies issue public tenders open to both domestic and foreign companies. [5]

Online Payment

The use of credit cards in Italy lags behind the United States and some European countries, due to security concerns among Italian users. Nonetheless, in 2016 credit cards were the main method of payment for eCommerce transactions with an estimated share of 45% of overall payments, followed by PayPal and other digital wallet services (27%), bank transfer payments (13%) and cash-on-delivery (13%).

Digital and mobile payment platforms are growing in Italy. In addition to PayPal, in April 2017, Amazon Italy and Alibaba Group announced the launch of mobile payment platforms Amazon Pay and Alipay which provide the option of purchasing goods and services from websites and mobile apps using addresses and payment methods stored in the user accounts. Moreover, major groups like Apple and Samsung are launching their digital payment services, which can be used both in online and physical stores.

We see strong differences in the methods of payment between the purchase of goods and services. Credit cards are utilized 99% of the time in the travel and tourism sector, and 65% in the insurance sector. On the other hand, cash-on-delivery still has a minor role in the information technology/consumer electronics sector, as well as in the apparel, book/music/audiovisual and grocery sectors. [6]

Security

On January 27, 2014 the Italian Government issued a “National Strategic Framework for Cyberspace Security” and a “National Plan for Cyber-Protection and Internet Security.” The National Strategic Framework for Cyberspace Security identifies the profiles and the trends of the cyber threats that may affect communication networks and systems that are strategic for Italy, and articulates policies to be followed in order to adequately address these threats. The National Plan for Cyber-Protection and Internet Security identifies the priorities, specific goals and courses of action to make the Strategic Framework effective.

Mobile eCommerce

In 2016, mobile commerce sales accounted for the 26% of total online sales for Italian companies. Over the last few years, mobile has steadily grown, accounting for 5% of total sales in 2012, 8.5% in 2013, 13% in 2014, and 22% in 2015. Italian companies are starting to invest more in mobile versions of e-commerce websites and apps, with 57% of Italian companies foreseeing investments in mobile commerce in 2017. [7]

Customer Experience

Italian consumers particularly appreciate the time saving aspect of shopping online (66%) as well as better prices (69%). However, personalisation is still an issue that needs to be addressed, as in other European ecommerce markets. [8]

Sources

  1. Export.gov “Italy Country Guide eCommerce”
  2. Export.gov “Italy Country Guide eCommerce”
  3. Export.gov “Italy Country Guide eCommerce”
  4. Export.gov “Italy Country Guide eCommerce”
  5. Export.gov “Italy Country Guide eCommerce”
  6. Export.gov “Italy Country Guide eCommerce”
  7. Export.gov “Italy Country Guide eCommerce”
  8. Twenga Solutions “eCommerce Italy Facts Figures”

Logistics

A Number of Options for U.S. SMEs

A number of express delivery options exist for U.S. SMEs wishing to ship goods to Italy. These include services offered by global logistics companies such as Fedex, UPS, DHL, TNT and others which usually guarantee a second business day delivery to Europe from the U.S. To date the B2C delivery has been dominated by national postal service Poste Italiane and local couriers SDA and Bartolini. Most logistics companies will offer a range of options for international delivery at different price points to meet customers’ needs. These usually feature different levels of tracking and insurance. Logistics companies can also help with bulk deliveries to help cut costs and provide advice on packaging, address formats and labeling.

Italian consumers will search for the lowest possible price. Therefore when domestic retailers offer speedy delivery, it may be worth exploring domestic fulfillment options in order to compete. Logistics companies either run their own fulfillment centers or can recommend reliable local fulfillment partners. [1]

Infrastructure

Italian consumers have grown used to a fairly slow and at times unreliable domestic postal service. However, the rise of ecommerce is raising demands and expectations on speed and quality of service. While the range of delivery options available to online shoppers is expanding (including lockers and collection/return points across major cities), these are still in their infancy. As the ecommerce market develops, the options for alternative delivery points or timed slots will increase. [2]

Import Duties

Import duty and taxes are due when importing goods into Italy from outside of the EU, whether by a private individual or a commercial entity. The import duty and taxes payable are calculated on the value of the imported goods, plus the cost of importing them (shipping and insurance). The standard VAT rate for importing items into Italy is 22%, with a few exceptions, attracting VAT at reduced rates of 10% or 4%. VAT is calculated on the value of the goods, plus the international shipping costs and insurance, plus any import duty due. [3]

Sources

  1. Export.gov “Italy Country Guide Express Delivery”
  2. Export.gov “Italy Country Guide Express Delivery”
  3. The Paypers “Ecommerce Law Italy”