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H&M and Zara Named Multichannel Leaders in Europe

It pays to be everywhere.

That’s according to the first-ever Internet Retailing Europe (IREU) Top 500 report, released Monday, which analyzed the leading e-commerce and cross-channel retailers in 32 countries and weighed their performance across six dimensions: footprint; the customer; operations and logistics; merchandising; brand engagement; mobile and cross-channel; and strategy and innovation.

“The resulting understanding goes beyond which retailer has the highest turnover, e-commerce revenues or web traffic to learn which best-practice approaches are most commonly and widely used in this highly-diverse market, and which are still emerging as e-tail becomes ever-more sophisticated,” Ian Jindal, Internet Retailing editor-in-chief, wrote in the report’s introduction.

Among the top five “elite” retailers: French sporting goods seller Decathlon, Swedish fast-fashion retailer H&M, Spain’s Zara and the U.K.’s Next. IREU said they represent “the pinnacle of European multichannel retail.” Also high on the list: Amazon, Carrefour, John Lewis, Lidl, Nike, Marks & Spencer, Otto,, Tesco and Zalando. Toward the latter end of the Top 500: AllSaints, Asics, Barbour, Boden, Cos, G-Star Raw and Monki, to name a few.

The report found that the U.K. is the most important market in Europe, with 54 percent of the Top 500 operating there. Thirty-eight percent have stores in France, followed by 36 percent in Germany. The data showed clothing retailers perform well when they have a significant presence in different territories, and H&M is among the largest 50 retailers with stores in 31 countries.

“It’s one of a number of brands that prosper in great part through an international recognition factor,” the report said. Other footprint leaders include Nike and SportsDirect.

But being present in lots of markets can also prove problematic, as all markets don’t have the same response to marketing material. For instance, the research found that 21 percent of e-mails sent to French people before dawn were opened, compared to 22 percent in the U.K. and 11 percent in Germany. Similarly, Brits open 20 percent of evening e-mails, while only 16 percent of French consumers and 12 percent of Germans do so. Notably, the French appear suspicious of large discounts, with only 15 percent of e-mails offering up to 25 percent off being opened.

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On the operations and logistics side of things, Germany’s standard delivery time ranked fastest, clocking in at four business days. Despite U.K. retailers offering 2.64 types of delivery options, the average time is 4.8 days.

Researchers found that enabling shoppers to easily find and research the goods they want makes them more likely to make a purchase. Across the Top 500 retailers, 62 percent offer dropdown search suggestions (most widely used in Austria), while 95 percent have at least one navigational filter. In addition, ranked retailers show an average of three product images, while checkout can be completed in an average of four pages.

German e-tailer Zalando, for example, had a consistent approach to merchandising across its 15 localized websites, as well as on its iOS and Android apps, allowing shoppers to find items quickly through relevant searches and filters and featuring an average of six product images.

Retailers that led in terms of engagement make it as easy as possible for customers to communicate with them, no matter the platform, and tailor their messages to specific markets. “To be a visible brand in Europe, retailers need to localize and focus on the channels most appropriate to the different territories in which they operate,” Martin Shaw, senior researcher at Internet Retailing, said.

H&M shines here, offering 11 currencies on its website and scoring highly on search visibility on Google, while British e-commerce site supports nine customer communication channels and is on seven social media networks, performing especially well on Twitter.

Researchers also analyzed retailers’ use of apps as part of their customer service and found that only 19 percent of the Top 500 retailers offering native shopping through iOS apps, 29 percent had the option to receive push notifications and only 8 percent used the channel to promote daily deals.

The final part of the performance index—strategy and innovation—measured how retailers serve customers across Europe. According to the findings, the average Top 500 retailer trades in four countries, offering two currencies and three languages. In addition, 55 percent offer click and collect, while next-day delivery is available from 29 percent.

Zara stood out here, delivering the same standard of services across 28 countries and in 23 languages. Asos, meanwhile, allows shoppers to choose their local currency and language on its main website and buy via localized Android and iOS apps in France, Germany, Italy and Spain.

“We’ve been interested to see how fast and how effectively retailers, especially those within the fashion market, are expanding their reach across the continent. Some are building their retail brands for a European and, indeed, a global audience, and they are making it easy for shoppers across this continent to buy in the way that best works for them,” Internet Retailing concluded, adding that it expects more retailers will start selling to more markets, using more languages and currencies to do so. “We also expect the phenomena of marketplaces and brands selling direct to exert a bigger influence on European retail over the next year, and our ongoing research will reflect this.”