Comment: Trading into Belgium and the Netherlands

This article looks at a few key points to consider when trading into the Belgium and the Netherlands eCommerce markets. They are sometimes (together with Luxembourg) collectively referred to as ‘Benelux’, but they still need to be viewed as different countries with different requirements.

The European Commission publishes a ‘Digital Scoreboard’ which assesses the development of digital infrastructure, government, infrastructure and engagement in member states. Both the Netherlands and Belgium are ranked above the UK in this scoreboard – with 96% of the Dutch population having access to the internet and 83% of Belgians.

Both countries offer globally-renowned ports and airports as well as excellent road and rail connections into Europe more widely, so are well suited to supporting online retail logistics.

Below we outline some of the key factors you should consider when building your strategy for market entry.

Say what?

In both countries, English is spoken widely. While this may be useful from the perspective of general communication, it doesn’t mean that you can just launch with an English-language website and not bother with translation.

But translate into which language, exactly?

It’s straightforward enough in the Netherlands, which has just one official language – Dutch. In Belgium however, the picture is a bit more complicated. There are two main regions in Belgium – French-speaking Wallonia and Dutch-speaking Flanders – and German is also an official language.

In addition, Brussels should be viewed almost as a separate region. Being home to the European Commission, English is a main language used there and it has an especial focus on international trade.

In essence, careful language localisation is required to get the best results.


Shopper payment preferences vary quite a bit between Belgium and the Netherlands, with cards being widely used in Belgium while bank-to-bank payments are far more popular among Dutch shoppers.

The difference between how shoppers prefer to pay for their orders in the respective markets are best illustrated by the following two charts. Taking Belgium first, Landmark Global report that 35% of online payments are made via a credit card and 30% using Bancontact – which is a domestic method linked to a bank account that can be used in-store, online or via a mobile app.

Note: chart specific to Belgium market only

Turning to the Netherlands, the eCommerce market developed along different lines – with the domestic banks creating a mechanism (iDeal) that facilitated payments without using cards, instead using bank-to-bank transactions to enable secure transactions. iDeal accounted for 56% of online purchases in 2015 according to the Dutch Payments Association, with credit card usage far behind at 12% and SEPA direct debit at 6%.

Note: chart specific to the Netherlands market only

3D Secure is commonly used in both countries and any merchant handling payment card data must conform to PCIDSS rules.


Both countries are highly accessible for online retailers, being located at the commercial and political centre of Europe – and consequently well served by excellent air, freight and logistics networks. This is reflected in the fact that 46% of Dutch and 52% of Belgium online shoppers have made purchases from non-domestic retailers, according to Postnord research from 2015. Both markets offer strong potential for growth in online sales given this appetite for buying from foreign brands.

In terms of which cross-border markets these shoppers purchased from, for Belgians it was the Netherlands (25%), Germany (7%) and the UK (6%), while for Dutch shoppers it was Germany (14%), US (11%) and China (10%).

There are differences around expectations for speed of delivery in both markets, according to the Postnord research. 43% of Dutch shoppers and 42% of Belgian shoppers consider it important that a maximum 3-day delivery option should be on offer but, when it comes to fast delivery, the Dutch are more demanding – 32% expect delivery in 1-2 days and 57% in 3-5 days, while for Belgian shoppers only 15% look for a 1-2-day delivery and 62% in 3-5 days.

Furthermore, a UPS study from 2015 found that the majority of Dutch shoppers (76%) expect next day delivery as the norm from local retailers – this compares with an average of 38% for shoppers in the other European countries surveyed. Perhaps in recognition of their desire for faster delivery, Dutch shoppers also seem less price-conscious than in other markets, with the same study finding that 63% consider free delivery important, below the European average (73%).

That is not to say that cost is not important – a 2013 survey by DHL Global Mail found that ‘delivery costs perceived to be high’ would be a barrier to shopping online for 45% of Dutch shoppers.

To find out more about the Belgian and Netherlands eCommerce markets, download your free copy of the eCommerce Worldwide Cross-Border Trading Report, published in association with Spring and PostNL.