Swiss catch online auction and shopping bug

Online shopping is slowly taking off in Switzerland Keystone

Online auction giant eBay says that its first year on the Swiss market has been positive, with more than 12 per cent of Swiss surfers using the site.

This content was published on November 6, 2004 - 11:22

Analysts say that the Swiss are slowly buying into online shopping, following the trend in neighbouring countries.

ebay said on Thursday that it had recorded a total of 390,000 visitors to its Swiss site. eBay.ch was launched in Switzerland last summer.

The Swiss branch recently set a company record in Europe with the sale of a limited edition Ferrari on its Swiss site for SFr1.2 million ($1million).

But eBay.ch is still falling short of the tens of millions using auction sites in Germany and the United States.

Surveys say half the adults in Switzerland use the web “more than once a week or daily” – a total market of 3.4 million people.

An estimated 115,000 of those people take part in web auctions, with 153,000 making purchases from online shops.

Overcoming fear

Here in Switzerland, the online shopper wants a known vendor and fixed prices, but not necessarily a bargain, says Catherine Crowden, a retail analyst at the Gottlieb Duttweiler Institute (GDI) in Zurich.

“The Swiss are risk-averse so it takes a little longer [to establish a market]. But they are going online for what is easy,” from flowers and clothing to books and software, she told swissinfo.

Crowden’s two-year study of what makes a successful online shop found the Swiss are overcoming their natural aversion to risks by making purchases.

“People were more afraid in 2002. Once they’ve done it or a friend does it they get comfortable,” she said.

Auctions

Switzerland’s largest retailer, Migros – which runs online grocer LeShop.ch – is one of the Swiss firms benefiting from the trend towards online shopping. According to Crowden, Migros web sales rose 46 per cent in September, year on year, to SFr23.2 million ($19.5 million).

eBay spokesman Joachim Guentert says he remains confident the Swiss will also embrace online auctions, and estimates the market is only two years behind Germany, which now logs 17 million users per month.

He points to the record-breaking sale, by a Swiss to another Swiss, of a Ferrari Enzo for SFr1.2 million on October 29. The Italian carmaker produced only 399 of the sports cars, and sold them only to select customers.

“The Swiss are not so much looking for bargains, they’re looking for the unique,” said Guentert, adding that a lot of things being offered for sale were collectors’ items.

“Germany and Austria are dominated by bargain hunters who are proud to get a great brand at a low price. Switzerland is completely different.”

Not a flea market

Guentert says the Swiss reputation for quality could be a plus for those who want to sell on eBay’s world market, which counts 125 million registered users. Swiss watches have sold for more than SFr20,000 a piece.

“Small and medium size enterprises are reflecting that eBay is more than a flea market on the internet, and they are using it to sell all over the world.”

But the Swiss aren’t totally comfortable with online commerce, and auctions require trust, he added.

To build that trust, the company set up a local marketing arm in spring of 2004. It is located in the European eBay headquarters in the Swiss capital Bern.

In cooperation with Migros Klubschule – a school associated with the retailer – eBay is offering workshops entitled, “Buying and selling on eBay”.

Crowden is convinced the Swiss will soon come to rely on the internet for buying and selling.

“The better the websites become, the more people will use them.”

swissinfo, Elizabeth Meen

Key facts

Half of all Swiss are considered regular internet users, surfing the web more than once a week or daily.
They say they go online for email (82%), search engines (64%), daily news (42%), banking (11%) and train schedules (16%).
3.4% participate in auctions via eBay or Ricardo.ch (115,000 people), and 4.5% (153,000) shop at Swiss retail sites.

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In brief

Internet shoppers in Switzerland value service, product appeal, good selection and low prices, in that order.

In the auction for the Ferrari – which was the highest price ever reached in eBay Europe – 39,000 people registered and there were 84 competing bids. The purchaser beat the next-best offer by only SFr50.

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