Online retailing: winning recipes

E-commerce continues to grow after an exceptionally strong performance in 2020. Here's an overview of the major trends in the sector, from multi-channel to online food.

A person is working on his computer, with a shopping cart and miniature shipping boxes next to it.

Online shopping has doubled in the last six years. In 2021 alone, Swiss consumers purchased CHF 14.4 billion worth of goods and merchandise on the Internet, an annual increase of 9.9%, according to a study (in French and German only) by in collaboration with the GfK Institute and Swiss Post. A 27% record increase had already been reached the year before at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020.

“The pandemic acted as a catalyst," says Nicolas Inglard. “It didn't generate new consumer behavior but it did amplify what had already begun." The director of Imadeo, a Geneva-based research and consulting firm for the retail sector, cites takeaway sales, the ever faster delivery of home delivery of food ("ready-made" meals as well as groceries), the widespread use of online resources, and the use of "omnichannel" operations.

Various channels

The "omnichannel" business model implies a presence physically, online, and on all channels that allow contact with customers, including social networks. "The more you give the consumer the option to choose different shopping channels, the more likely they are to buy from your store and be loyal," says Dominique Locher, former CEO of, a Swiss e-commerce pioneer founded in 1997.

The retailer can offer consumers direct online shopping, reserving an item online for in-store purchase, ordering it in-store for home delivery, checking availability on the Internet, or even viewing the products in-store via video. If brick-and-mortar retailers do not keep up with the pace of technology, online market opportunities will pass them by, according to Ralf Wölfle, author of the study "Commerce Report Switzerland 2021” (only in German) from the University of Applied Sciences Northwestern Switzerland. “Consumers today value the freedom to decide, depending on whether they want to shop for themselves or have products delivered."

For Nicolas Inglard, these trends do not only affect retail leaders but also SMEs. "There is a wide variety of easy-to-access technology solutions," he observes. “During the semi-confinement, small retailers simply resorted to WhatsApp videos to show their products to their customers."

Growth sectors

Electronics, books, music, fashion are already established in the online market. For Dominique Locher, current investments are concentrated on areas that have not yet conquered the digital market. "Today, in e-commerce, a lot of money is being injected into the food industry because of its potential." According to the Swiss Retail Federation (see box), only 16% of consumers regularly purchase food online, compared to 75% for electronics.

"The pandemic has accelerated the trend towards online shopping for all kinds of food: for cooking yourself, pre-washed and pre-cut, or completely ready-made." Dominique Locher personally invests in "Quick Commerce", i.e. the delivery of food within a few minutes, without the need to book a delivery slot.

Circular economy is the other major investment generating sector for the former LeShop director. "Most of the cards have already been dealt in the new product markets, so smaller companies and start-ups are investing in secondhand and rentals."


Last modification 04.05.2022

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