The Republic of Ireland may have a small population (4.6 million), but it represents a good market opportunity for online retailers – with a GDP per capita of nearly $49,000 in 2014 (fourth-highest in the EU) and a customer-base that is very comfortable with cross-border shopping.

Trading into the Republic also opens up access to Northern Ireland, with the two countries sharing a common border and heritage despite Northern Ireland being politically and economically part of the UK.

Indeed the UK is the Republic’s top trading partner (accounting for 39% of imports) and second-largest export market (accounting for 16%; the US if the largest at 21%).

Below we outline a few factors you should consider when building your strategy for market entry into Ireland.

Social is very popular

Irish shoppers are strong adopters of digital technology, with social networks a very important channel for communication – particularly through smartphones.

The most popular platform is Facebook, which enjoys a penetration of 60% according to Statista & Amárach – rising to 65% for Northern Ireland. It is also a highly mobile experience for people there, with 80% of traffic coming through these devices and just 20% via desktops. Of these users, 79% access daily and a third post an update at least daily.

However, it is use of messaging apps that is especially prevalent in Ireland. According to a 2015 study by Ipsos MRBI, a whopping 85% of 15-18 year-olds have a Snapchat account with almost all using it daily. At the 25-34 year-old segment, a much lower percentage (35%) have an account although daily usage is fairly high at 51%.

Cross-border shopping is well-established

According to a survey by Eurostat in 2015, the Republic ranks as one of the most advanced cross-border economies in Europe.

This is because the proportion of sales being made by domestic businesses to other EU28 countries is high – almost 30% of total revenue is derived via eCommerce and over 15% made into the EU for multichannel businesses.

Irish shoppers are also keen on making purchases from other territories. Research from Ipsos / PayPal in 2015 found that 86% of Republic shoppers make at least one cross-border purchase every year – although some of these purchases may actually be coming from across the common border with Northern Ireland.

To put this in perspective, PayPal estimates online retail will be worth €5 billion in 2016, with €2 billion being made cross-border – representing over a third of all online spending.

Shoppers are accessible

The geography of Ireland makes shoppers fairly easy to access – with just 2.2 million residential and business addresses across 70,000 sq km (Northern Ireland adds another 14,000 sq km). Furthermore, almost 25% of the population live in and around Dublin.

This means, from a logistics perspective at least, Ireland doesn’t really present online retailers with any significant obstacles – particularly following the introduction in July 2015 of postcodes in the Republic (Eircode), which previously proved a real barrier to accurately locating delivery locations for eCommerce deliveries (over 35% of addresses in the Republic share their address with at least one other property).

As with shoppers in many other countries, offering convenient and simple returns is an issue that is growing in importance. When it comes to making cross-border purchases, shoppers often report they assume returns will be difficult or costly – which puts them off.

As a general rule, Republic shoppers expect:

  • A simple and transparent returns process
  • A convenient way to drop-off the parcel (or have it collected)
  • To be kept informed on the progress of their return
  • To be advised when their refund is being made, possibly including duty repatriation

Free download

To find out more about the Irish ecommerce market, download your free copy of the Ireland Cross-Border Trading Report 2016, published in association with Nightline.

Graeme Howe, MD of IMRG and MD of Ecommerce Worldwide