When you think of the Netherlands, you might picture an idyllic country filled with windmills, tulips and bicycle commuters, but there’s much more going on behind the picture-perfect scenes. The Netherlands is an economic powerhouse with a large — and growing — e-commerce market. In 2019, it was rated as the fourth most competitive economy in the world according to the World Economic Forum Global Competitiveness Index, while also ranking fourth on the Forbes 2019 Best Countries for Business list. That excellent economy is reflected in the e-commerce market. There’s hardly any country in the world with such a high percentage of digital natives, or whose residents are so eager for trendy new products. In this article, we’ll explain why the Dutch e-commerce market is such a worthwhile target.
The country and its inhabitants
The Netherlands is the most densely populated country in the EU and one of the most densely populated countries in the world. It has a population of about 17.5 million, all packed together on 41,500 square meters of land.
The Netherlands is one of the world’s leading countries for international trade. Its advanced infrastructure and location make it a key center for global business. Rotterdam, Europe’s largest port, and the Amsterdam Schiphol Airport, which is the fourth largest airport in Europe when it comes to cargo, have helped the country become one of the top trading nations in the world.
Dutch people are cosmopolitan, trend-aware, and extremely comfortable with the digital world. 99% of the people living there go online at least once per week, and 91% say they use the internet daily. Residents of the Netherlands take care of all kinds of tasks online, from applying to insurance to shopping for groceries. And, as with most countries, the pandemic has increased the trend of digital shopping: revenue from online grocery purchases increased from €16 million in 2020 to €22 million in 2021.
Because they are so tech-savvy, the Dutch have very high expectations of their online shopping experience. They value speed — both in terms of the shopping and checkout process as well as the delivery. Because people in the Netherlands are generally open for things that are new and innovative, they are less loyal to specific brands and companies. This means that newcomers to the market have a real chance at establishing themselves successfully.
Aside from that, the Dutch economy is very strong. The Netherlands enjoys having the seventeenth largest economy in the world and the fifth largest in the Eurozone. In 2020, the gross domestic product (GDP) was $912 billion.
The official language of the Netherlands is Dutch, which is spoken by nearly the entire population. Worldwide, around 23 million people speak Dutch as their first language, and around 5 million people speak it as a second language. Dutch is also an official language in Belgium, Suriname, Aruba, Curacao, and Sint Maarten. Frisian is an additional official language in the province of Friesland, which is spoken by 453,000 people.
English is an extremely popular second language in the Netherlands and is spoken by around 90% of the population. In Amsterdam, English is even a second official language, although it does not have exactly the same status as Dutch, which is used for most publications and administrative work.
Nonetheless, the Dutch still prefer to shop in their native language whenever possible. As with everything in life, people are most comfortable in a familiar environment, and that means that webshops in the Netherlands should localize both the language and the shopping experience for the Dutch public.
It’s also important to note that the Belgian regions of Flanders and Brussels use Dutch as an official language. More than half the population of Belgium — 6 million people — speak Belgian Dutch, which is known as Flemish. Flemish and Dutch speakers can understand each other, and the languages are largely the same. However, the vocabulary can differ widely, much like the difference between US and British English. If you already have a webshop targeted at Belgian speakers of Dutch, you should consider having it localized for your new target audience in the Netherlands. This will make sure that your customers clearly understand the product descriptions, and that your overall website makes a more familiar, trustworthy impression. This will also help with your SEO, as consumers in Belgium might use different search terms than those in the Netherlands.
The e-commerce market in the Netherlands
The Dutch are online all the time, and that is reflected in the country’s e-commerce revenues.
In 2019, the Netherlands had the 5th largest share of e-commerce users in all of Europe, with over 80% of Dutch consumers between 16- and 75-years old reporting that they had shopped online that year. In 2020, almost 335 million online orders or purchases were made in the Netherlands, with a total value of 26.6 billion euros.
And those numbers are still going up. In the final quarter of 2021, Dutch e-commerce revenue increased by 12% compared to 12 months earlier. And the third quarter of the year had even higher growth, with an 18% increase compared to 12 months prior. Dutch people love shopping online. In 2021, people spent an average of 1968 euro per person on e-commerce purchases. The most popular categories were food, drinks and shoes. The two most popular reasons listed for shopping online are home delivery and a larger selection of products.
Dutch consumers expect excellent customer service. They also value sustainable e-commerce — since the beginning of the pandemic, many people in the Netherlands have expressed concern about the environmental effects of shipping and delivery. Some Dutch companies have switched to deliveries using e-bikes and electric vehicles to decrease their environmental impact.
The most popular e-commerce marketplaces in the Netherlands
It’s worth noting that, among the five largest online marketplaces where the Dutch shop, only one of them is based outside the Netherlands. The largest marketplace is bol.com with 11 million customers in the Netherlands and Belgium, 100 million monthly visits to their website, and a market share of 12% of all online purchases in the Netherlands. More and more retailers are starting to list their products on online marketplaces. If your company sells products in the categories toys, hobby, DIY, fashion and furniture & appliances, bol.com might be a fruitful way to get started in the Dutch market. The platform offers several features that make things easier for their sales partners, such as complete management of the shipping process.
Preferences in online shopping: webshop, payment and shipping
Although most Dutch people speak English, they still prefer an online store in Dutch. But it doesn’t stop there: the website’s design should also be adapted to suit Dutch tastes. Dutch consumers prefer modern web design with a bit of flair — colorful accents and interactive design can help you catch their attention. The shopping experience should also be as straightforward and efficient as possible, with fast loading times.
The organization Thuiswinkel Waarborg offers a webshop quality mark for online retailers, which Dutch customers rely on as an indication that a webshop is trustworthy. The organization also carries out market research and offers complaints mediation to online shop entrepreneurs and their customers.
The most commonly used payment method in the Netherlands is iDeal. It accounted for over 70% of all e-commerce transactions in 2021. It allows customers to pay for their purchases with direct transfers from their bank accounts. PayPal is the next most popular payment method, although it accounted for only 8% of payments in 2021. It is followed by debit card, bank transfer, AfterPay, bank authorization, and Klarna, each of which accounted for 4% or less of the e-commerce transactions.
The most popular delivery methods are PostNL, Click&Collect and DHL, but DPD, UPS und GLS are also used. Customers in the Netherlands are used to fast shipping — often according to the motto “order today, get it tomorrow”. If your company is planning to ship from outside of the Netherlands, this will cause a significant delay. You might want to consider using a Dutch fulfillment services provider to speed things up.
VAT and import fees
The VAT in the Netherlands is 21% for most goods, although certain types of products have a reduced VAT rate of only 9%. Because it is a member of the European Economic Area, there are no import fees for products that are coming from other EU countries. The EU-wide rules for payment of VAT apply here as well.
If your company wants to offer its products via Dutch marketplaces such as bol.com, you will need to register your company in the Netherlands. This can be done through the “Kamer van Koophandel” (KVK), which is the Dutch chamber of commerce. If you plan to sell your products on your own online shop, you do not need to register with the KVK.
Dutch consumers are tech-savvy, constantly online, and love their e-commerce. Those characteristics, combined with a strong national economy and high standard of living, make the Dutch market a worthwhile sales target. If your brand is expanding in the EU, you will already be familiar with many of the needs, expectations, and legal regulations that govern Dutch e-commerce. This makes for a relatively low barrier to entry. For a minimum of effort, you can gain access to a large (and growing) market.