The forgotten part of eCommerce

Posted by Catarina Fonseca

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Recently, Club Ecommerce released a study on the Top 100 eCommerce businesses in Portugal. This top 100 was ranked based on the number of visits on a website. So, based on this criterion, most of the companies that made it to this top were big corporations. In fact, some of the most visited e-sellers in Portugal were GearBest, Aliexpress, Continente, Worten and Fnac. This information is very useful to know who the big eCommerce players are in Portugal.

But seeing all these big names in the Portuguese eCommerce got us wondering: what about the small and medium size eCommerces? Where do they all stand in this eCommerce landscape?

So dogged deeper and to look into the SME side of eCommerce. But let me tell you, we were actually surprised about the amount of data that we found. Or better yet, that we didn’t find.

When we started to look for statistics about SME online stores that could lead us to some valuable insights, there wasn’t that much data to go on. But we wouldn’t let that stop us from writing this article (as you can clearly see).

So, for the lack of data, we tried to look into other sources of information that could help us to come up with reasonable estimates.

According to PORDATA, in 2016, there were about 1.2 million registered companies in Portugal. 1.2 million companies. And the total revenue for these companies is 366 billion euros. But that isn’t all.

Of this number, 99.9% were SME. To be more precise:

  • 96,2% are micro companies (enterprises with less than 10 employees and with an annual turnover of less than 2 million euros).
  • 3,2% are small companies (between 10 and 49 employees, with an annual turnover between 2 and 10 million euros).
  • And 0.5% are medium companies (enterprises with 50 to a 249 employees, with an annual turnover of, max, 50 million euros).

And the total revenue of SME was 210 billion euros.

So, this means that 99.9% of all the companies in Portugal are small and medium enterprises – and this group of companies is responsible for 57.4% of the total revenue generated.

Although this applies only to SMEs in general, and since there is no data available concerning the eCommerce market, for the sake of the argument, let’s assume that the same ratios apply to the eCommerce.

But, since we know there are differences between the ‘real’ and the online world, we can safely say there can be a large margin of error, so we assume that the actual percentage of SMEs in eCommerce lies between 40% and 70%. Whatever the actual percentage might be, there is no arguing that this is a substantial part of the ecommerce market.

And you know what the worst part actually is? It’s that, although SME are a big portion of the eCommerce market, when compared to the total number of small and medium enterprises in the ‘real’ world, only a small percentage actually explores eCommerce.

According to Statistica, in 2018, the total eCommerce revenue in Portugal was about 2.7 billion euros. And, as stated by an ACEPI study, in 2014, only 6% of micro enterprises sold online, this number increasing to 35% for large enterprises.

So, only approximately 70 000 of micro companies – among more than 1 million companies – sell in a fast growing market.

And a company that isn’t online these days, “doesn’t exist”.

Many companies that choose to only stay in the ‘physical’ world, will eventually seize to exist. Because, by not giving the consumer a chance to buy a product online, a business won’t reach the potential audience that it can. Which means it won’t reach all the potential value, and revenue, that it can.


And you know, we get that not all companies can or should start to sell online. Some type of businesses simply don’t make sense for the online world, like most bakeries and bars.

But, by looking at the average values for the European Union, we know that there is more than enough space for improvement of the eCommerce market in Portugal.

According to Eurostat, in the European Union in 2016:

  • 44% of large enterprises sold online;
  • 29% of medium enterprises made e-sales;
  • And 18% of small enterprises sold online.

So, in the EU, there are 10% to 20% more SME selling online than in Portugal. And, even though these numbers concern SMEs in general, and not micro companies, we believe it’s fair to say that, at least, 10% more Portuguese SMEs can start selling online.

So what would be the impact if a mere 10% more of SMEs started to sell on the internet? What would be the impact that this has on the eCommerce market in Portugal? Would that lead to faster improvements in the Portuguese eCommerce landscape, or to other areas connected to eCommerce? And would that ultimately bring for the Portuguese economy?

We don’t have the answers as well. But at least we should start to find methods to collect data on SME eCommerces, so we can actually have conversations, starting by asking with the right questions and to help the Portuguese Commerce industry go forward.

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