The positive trend for the e-commerce sector continues, according to data collected from the second edition of the study conducted by Netcomm, in collaboration with The European House – Ambrosetti, entitled “The role and contribution of e-commerce and digital retail to Italy’s growth.”

E-commerce and the supply chain associated with it are confirmed as a fundamental sector for the growth of the Italian system. The value network of e-commerce and digital retail ranks first among Italy’s 99 economic activities in terms of incidence on total private sector turnover, coming to weigh 40.6 percent of the turnover growth of total Italian private sector economic activities in the five-year period 2016-2020. It is estimated that in 2021, the growth of the activities of this supply chain will be +4.4 percent compared to 2020, standing at nearly €71 billion in total turnover at the national level (it was nearly €68 billion in 2020, an increase of 20 percent compared to the pre-pandemic year).

 “In light of the results of this study, we can only decree once and for all the end of the conception of e-commerce as a mere ‘trend.’ The value network of digital commerce is much more than that: we are talking about a concrete and tangible supply chain that grows our economy more than all the other 98 economic activities taken into consideration and that involves 723 thousand businesses.” – commented Roberto Liscia, President of Netcomm. “Digital commerce and its supply chain are configuring themselves – and will increasingly configure themselves – as an ecosystem in which traditional and digital channels coexist and collaborate in a strategic horizon of growth.”

“Besides being a great opportunity for the internationalization of Made in Italy productions, the sector also represents an opportunity for the creation of value for Italy.” – said Lorenzo Tavazzi of The European House – Ambrosetti – “The sectors involved in the supply chain are now worth €71 billion (+95% since 2016). Not only that. This industrial and service system has a high activation capacity on the rest of the economy: for every 100 euros generated in the extended e-commerce and digital retail supply chain in Italy, an additional 148 euros are generated.”

Geographically, companies working in this supply chain are equally distributed across Italy, but more than half of the turnover comes from the Northwest (51.1%, with an important contribution offered by Lombardy). Among the sub-sectors, the driving role exerted by logistics emerges, which has experienced a recovery phase during the pandemic, whose growth (CAGR) stands at +13.7 percent on average per year in terms of turnover.

The value network of e-commerce and digital retail is divided into two macro-aggregates: online sales (which in addition to marketplaces and retailers totally or partially active in the online channel also includes advertising platforms, integrated services for web presence and customer care activities) and services supporting e-commerce activities, including logistics, packaging and payment systems.

The survey of businesses showed how online sales enabled operators to have a direct relationship with customers (for a quarter of respondents active in the B2B channel and 22 percent active in the B2C channel) and to offer a more complete and satisfying experience (especially from a multichannel perspective in the B2C segment). In this context, for 1 in 5 operators, entry into the online channel has allowed them to reduce order management costs, while for only a fraction of respondents (10% in B2B, 6.4% in B2C) has implied a downsizing of the physical retail network, confirming the coexistence and mutual support between the online and offline segments.    

Turning to future investments, for the companies involved in the survey, the main areas to be invested in are those related to the world of online sales. In first place is investment in digital marketing, the first item for both the B2B channel (38.5 percent of the panel) and the B2C channel (23.9 percent of the panel). This is followed in second place by investments in improving the user experience, particularly the e-commerce site and increasing the presence on marketplaces for B2B, while for B2C companies the increase in the team dedicated to the e-commerce channel.

Proposals by Netcomm and The European House – Ambrosetti have identified 3 areas of intervention to support the development of the extended e-commerce supply chain in Italy. Policies for the development of the “commerce industry,” upgrading digital skills and technologies, and strengthening digital export. First and foremost, it is proposed to allocate part of the PNRR funds to the technological investments of trade industry enterprises. With regard to digital skills and technology upgrades, it is suggested that funding be provided for enterprises to train potential resources to be employed in e-commerce and digital retail, provided that they access certified courses and, at the same time, the enterprises commit to hiring the resource upon completion of such training program. Finally, as far as strengthening digital export is concerned, it is recommended to encourage agreements with major international B2C and B2B marketplaces and e-Tailers for the promotion in special “showcases” of “Made in Italy” productions and to simplify customs requirements.

Roberto Liscia
Lorenzo Tavazzi