Online Christmas sales jump by a third in Europe: payment firm

BRUSSELS (Reuters) - Online Christmas sales in Europe rose steeply from the year before, with even sharper increases for purchases via tablets and smartphones, according to online payment service provider Ogone.

Transactions in December grew 37 percent, the firm said on Thursday, based on payments over its platform. Purchases on tablets doubled and those made using smartphones rose by 50 percent.

Mobile payments - via phones and tablets - made up 13.5 percent of all e-commerce business.

"I don't think price plays such a role anymore. I think it's more convenience. You can easily compare the offering of different websites rather than going to stores," Ogone managing director Jurgen Verstraete told Reuters in an interview.

"There's a lot more demand so there are automatically more webshops. It's also easier to set up a webshop in economically difficult periods."

Verstraete said e-commerce logistics were improving, leading to rising confidence among consumers of timely delivery. This was illustrated by the fact the peak transaction day was December 16, just nine days before Christmas, he said.

Ogone provides online payment services to 50,000 companies in 70 countries across the world, with the vast majority of its business in Belgium, Britain, France, Germany and the Netherlands.

It declined to give the total number of transactions in Europe or globally in December, or 2013 as a whole, but said in 2012 it handled 137 million transactions globally worth a total of 16.6 billion euros ($22.57 billion).

In the UK, industry data has shown that Internet sales of non-food products had their highest growth in four years in December, and trading updates by British retailers on Thursday showed those who were able to tap into this growing online demand enjoyed robust trading.

Ogone, part of Paris-listed Ingenico, said e-commerce remained principally a domestic business, particularly in Britain and France, partly due to language or the payment system used.

Germany was an exception, with only 51 percent of e-sales to customers in the country.

Ogone did not provide a forecast for growth in the coming year, but clearly envisages market expansion, with plans to increase its European staff of 225 by 100 during 2014.

European Commission research has shown online shopping on the rise in Europe. More than half (53 percent) of European consumers made at least one online purchase in the 12 months until September 2012, double the proportion of 2006.

About 15 percent had made a purchase from a seller in another EU country, up from 6 percent in 2006, according to a study published last June. ($1 = 0.7356 euros)

(Reporting by Philip Blenkinsop; Editing by Pravin Char)