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First e-commerce lessons for the World Cup 2018


The World Cup 2018 was an online tournament. More than 40 million people from all over the world used BBC iPlayer to stream the group-stage matches. Globally, 76 million people streamed just the final between France and Croatia. In Germany, 58% of viewers watched the group stages while using a second screen to browse or use social media. Like many big live events, the tournament is both an opportunity and a challenge for online retailers (and retailers in general).

It’s a challenge, because consumers who might normally be distracted by sunshine are also tempted away from the checkout by football. Shopping tastes can also change radically for the duration of the tournament.

For instance, during the 2018 tournament e-commerce sales in Q2 as a whole grew by 10.7% year on year. For June, when the first half of the World Cup took place, online retail grew at 8.5%, compared to just 2.3% for retail as a whole.

These figures are good but not particularly remarkable. It’s when you dig down into the details that things really get eye opening. During the World Cup, sales of garden equipment rose by 50% compared to the same period in 2017. Forlorn football haters escaping into the outdoors? A bit perhaps, but according to Horticulture Week, the category’s big online sellers were BBQs and outdoor furniture, bought by people watching the matches outside in the sunshine.

So, part of the battle for online retailers is to predict the right stock profile and inventory levels going into the tournament or any similar live event. In 2018, alongside a 50% increase in garden equipment the tournament also saw UK sales of footwear grow by 23%, clothing by 19% and gifts by 10%. But that’s not the only challenge.

As well as boosting some categories at the expense of others, tournaments such as the World Cup also change patterns of when people are online and when they buy. According to eBay CEO Devin Wenig, the marketplace saw a 30% dip in shopping rates, starting 45 minutes before the game and lasting for 45 minutes afterwards, in the two countries with teams on the field.

To maximize sales, merchants should plan their marketing activity around the world cup fixings. They should also take into account different possible outcomes for each match and how these might impact both the retail environment and specifically what people intend to buy.

England manager Gareth Southgate set off a mini-sales-boom in waistcoats among those imitating his distinctive style. But anyone with stock left in the warehouse after 11 July, when England went out of the World Cup, was likely to be disappointed. Levels of admiration for England’s gentleman manager remained rightly high, but the waistcoat fad soon waned.

Overall, and like many live events with mass participation, the tournament is a good thing for retailers. This holds true internationally. E-commerce turnover in Germany rose noticeable during the World Cup. For instance, payments provider Klarna reported a 22% spike in sales. In Indonesia, online sales grew by 25% during the tournament. In Brazil, the online conversion rate for searches on HD TVs increased by 15% during the 2018 World Cup.

For online merchants, the World Cup is definitely a game worth playing. With the right marketing strategy, the ability to track stock, data and demand trends in real time, e-commerce providers can make huge gains off the back of any live event. It takes planning, insight and dedication but it’s possible.