Start up an e-commerce business in the Netherlands

The Netherlands has one of the most well-developed e-commerce infrastructures in the world. Even more than in other Western European countries, Dutch people are extremely used to buying goods and services online. Furthermore, the physical infrastructure is extremely suitable for fast e-commerce delivery. Due to the countries small size, extensive and high-quality road network, delivery to any corner of the country is possible within hours rather than days.

The Netherlands houses a large internal market and is one of the most important gateways to the European e-commerce market. Setting up a company in the Netherlands grants you access to the entire European Single Market, which means selling goods to customers in countries all over Europe without much paperwork. Below we explain in more detail what to look out for when starting up a webshop in the Netherlands.

ecommerce revenue growth netherlands 2015-2020
Growth of e-commerce turnover in the Netherlands 2015-2020

Register your online business in the Netherlands

First of all, it is crucial to have a legal entity in the Netherlands from which you can operate and sell your goods or online services. As a foreigner in the Netherlands, it is most common to start a Dutch limited company, a so-called BV. In a few situations you could also start up as a self proprietorship (or in Dutch: eenmanszaak). This is only relevant if your business is and will remain small in size, you are a permanent resident in the Netherlands and your business has a low-risk profile.

Our general advice to foreigners who want to set up shop in the Netherlands is therefore to do it properly and start up a BV. First of all, the BV is a separate legal entity that can perform legal actions and is separated from you personally. This means that you are not personally liable for its risks and potential losses. Additionally, once your business reaches a certain level of profit, it is much more tax-beneficial to operate a BV since the corporate tax level is one of the lowest in Europe.

Largest online retailers in the Netherlands in terms of revenue (dollars)
Largest online retailers in the Netherlands in terms of revenue (dollars)

Set up the legal entity and bank account

The most important thing you will need is a chamber of commerce (in Dutch: KvK) number. This registration number will allow you to open a business bank account. With that bank account you can also register with payment providers, which we will discuss after this. Make sure you have a great business name ready before you start this process. This name should not already be taken and not be conflicting with an already existing business.

  • Step 1: Contact us and request a quote for setting up a Dutch company.
  • Step 2: We will advice you on the best legal entity and company structure, based on the specifics of your situation.
  • Step 3: Incorporate your business at the notary.
  • Step 4: Register the company at the KvK.
  • Step 5: Obtain a VAT (BTW) identification number.
  • Step 5: Open a bank account and get an IBAN number.

We have made a comprehensive timeline on the process so you know exactly what to do when.

Best banks for an online business in the Netherlands

You have roughly two options when it comes to opening a bank account for your Dutch online business.

First of all, you can open an account at one of the large, well-established banks. The main advantage is that they offer a full range of banking services, such as business loans. Those banks are ABN AMRO, ING and Rabobank.

A second option is to use one of the online banks, such as Bunq or Knab. These banks generally stick to the core and offer relatively simple banking services. Bunq is our recommendation. It integrates well with all sorts of online tools such as accounting tools and has a top class customer service. Everything is arranged from their mobile app.

Make your Dutch online business compliant

You want to make sure that the rights and obligations of your customers ordering through your Dutch website are clear at all times. For example: what happens when an order is delayed and within how many days a customer can return a product or request a refund. Not only does this establish clarity between you and your customer in case things do not turn out as expected. Additionally, clear rules and conditions for your customers make you look more trustworthy and will lead to more sales.

Terms & conditions for a Dutch webshop

The first thing you want to arrange when setting up an online sales channel is therefore your terms & conditions. If you are selling physical products, it is important to have specialized e-commerce terms and conditions. If you are selling services or subscriptions online these terms and conditions will be slightly different in nature.

GDPR compliance for e-commerce

As a webshop owner you are dealing with personal data of your customers and perhaps others. You are probably also using services such as Google Analytics to track your customers' and to learn from their behaviour. There are a few important documents you should have in place in order to be compliant with Dutch and EU regulations. You can do our GDPR compliance check to find out which GDPR documents your online business should have in place.

Rules for online tobacco or alcohol sales

You do not need a license to sell beer, wine, port and sherry through a webshop. In case you do not have a physcial liquor store or other similar shop, you can only deliver beer, wine, port and sherry to order from a closed area where no customers are allowed. When you deliver the drink, you need to check the age of the customer.

The government is implementing certain measures to make it harder for <18 years old to buy alcohol online. Internet-based alcohol sellers are legally responsible for monitoring compliance with the age limit throughout the process from purchase to delivery. If anything goes wrong from order to delivery anywhere in this process, the seller is legally responsible. In addition, when ordering, the online provider must check whether the buyer is 18 years old. A so-called age verification system must be used for this, for which the online provider is responsible. Exactly what such a system must meet is currently being worked out. It must be clear to the delivery person which orders must be checked for the alcohol age, so that this can be done at the door. Delivery of alcohol to adult neighbors will no longer be allowed.

Sales of tobacco and e-cigarette products is legal, but highly regulated. First of all, you need to be registered as a retailer at the consumer authority (NVWA) if you are selling cross-border within the European Economic Zone. Furthermore, you are not allowed to advertise tobacco products. The presentation of the tobacco product on the website should be very sober and as neutral as possible. This means a textual summary of the specifications of the product against a neutral background. The brand, the variant, the content or size of the packaging and the selling price may be stated. The NVWA will perform checks if you abide all the rules concerning tabacoo trade.Violation can lead to heavy fines.

If you are interested to find out how we can help your business to become compliant, please visit this page.

Set up your website or webshop in the Netherlands

Once your business is fully set up and you have all the necessary (legal) paperwork done, you can move on to setting up the actual e-commerce website or webshop.

Domain name: choosing the right domain and extension

The first thing to do at this stage is to register a domain name. One of the domain providers with the best reputation is Transip. On this website you can easily check out if your domain of choice is still available. They also offer a website pack where you get hosting together with your domain name. This can work for a very small shop and can be a good place to start. However, we generally recommend to set this up right, straight-away. You do not want to grow your webshop and traffic, only to find out that it is too slow to properly function.

Furthermore, you should think well about the extension you are going to use. If you are focusing on the Dutch market only (or you have a multi-domain strategy with one domain per country), we strongly recommend you to use a .NL domain. Alternatively a .EU or a .COM can work, but it is still the national domain extension that Dutch consumers trust the most.

Finally, make sure the name you are using is clear and not conflicting with that of someone else. Do thorough research if your domain name is completely cleared, by searching on Google, browsing through the chamber of commerce database and checking the Benelux IP database.

E-commerce platform

Another important decision to make is choosing your e-commerce platform of choice. This is very much a matter of personal preference. There are several Saas (software-as-a-service) solutions that combine a webshop module with hosting and maintenance. This makes it extremely easy to launch and operate your e-commerce site. One of them is Lightspeed. This Canadian company has its European headquarters, including a team of developers and a sales department in Amsterdam. Their fees are relatively affordable, given that support and hosting are included. If your business is not online online but has a physical store as well, Lightspeed's Retail module gives you a full point-of-sale package including hardware. The negative thing about Lightspeed is that there are certain technical and design aspects that you will have to accept. In other words, you cannot fully customize everything. In return, you will have an extremely reliable and very fast e-commerce solution with next to zero downtime. Since site speed is an increasing ranking factor, Lightspeed is a definitely recommended. Do note that Lightspeed is solely suited for the online sales of physical goods and not particularly helpful for sales of subscription or online services.

Probably the most deployed ecommerce software in the Netherlands is Woocommerce. This is basically a plugin in a WordPress website. The real advantage of this solution is that it is fully customizable and very affordable. Woocommerce is used by both very tiny and a few of the largest companies in the world. You can easily build and expand your online business with all sorts of plugins and extensions. For example, for just a few hundred euros extra you easily turn your site into a subscription based website. This is also the risk of using WordPress with Woocommerce: the endless possibilities can lead to a lack of overview and a potential less stable website. If done correctly however, Woocommerce is one of the fastest, cheapest, flexible ánd most scaleable e-commerce platforms on the market today.

A third serious platform is Shopify. This is also a Saas solution, which is gaining ground in the Netherlands. It does not have the same sort of user-base as Woocommerce nor the out-of-the-box experience of Lightspeed, but it is perhaps somewhere in between.

For very small webshops there are out-of-the-box solutions such as Wix and Squarespace who also recently started offering e-commerce packages. The main advantage is that these solutions require hardly any technical skills nor experience with building websites. The downside is that they offer only a fraction of the functionalities of the larger e-commerce platforms as named above.

If all of the above is too technical for you or if you would just like to hear our opinion on your online business, feel free to send us an email to discuss.

Hosting

After you have acquired the domain name, and chosen your platform of choice, the next step is to find an excellent hosting company to host your website's data. As said, some services have website hosting included in their package. If you use one of those, you can skip this part. The Netherlands has a wide selection of parties offering hosting services. Certain hosting companies are specialized in a certain e-commerce platform. For example, we frequently use the services of Dutch hosting company Savvii, which is specialized in WordPress and Woocommerce websites. For certain larger webshops that require a bit more power we also frequenly recommend another Dutch specialist called Hoasted.

Payment solutions

You want your customers to have a great website experience. Most of all, you want them to convert that experience into sales. That is why offering a flawless payment solution is one of the most important steps in the process. The payment methods you offer should reflect the preferred payment method of those customers. This might sound obvious, but still many foreign webshops setting up shop in the Netherlands think they can get away with offering a credit card payment gateway only.

However, the large majority of online transactions in the Netherlands is done by a payment method called iDeal. This is a debit card solution with a fixed transaction fee of around 0,25 euros for the store owner. Compared to the average credit card gateway where you as a store owner often pay around 2 to even 3.5 percent per transaction. Paypal can be even more expensive. If you are running a business with low-margin products, every percent counts. Using a payment solution with iDeal is therefore crucial, not in the least because not having this in place will make Dutch customer think they are dealing with a foreign webshop which will make them less likely to complete the transaction.

Since recently, an online store is not legally allowed to oblige a consumer to pay more than half of the purchase amount in advance. This must therefore offer a post-payment method whereby the consumer does not have to pay the entire bill immediately. In practice this means that if you are dealing with B2C transations, you will need to offer some sort of post-purchase payment method such as Klarna or AfterPay.

We recommend Mollie as a payment service provider for your business in Holland. This Dutch company provides a single solution for debit card (among others iDeal), credit card, PayPal and post-purchase payment methods. Mollie's fees are relatively low and their customer service is excellent.

For a bit larger businesses, the payment solution offered by Adyen is a good alternative.

A Dutch phone number

You might want your customers to be able to reach you. Perhaps you are not in the Netherlands yourself, but you want to give customers the confidence that they are dealing with a Dutch company. There are multiple providers of online phone numbers (VoIP) in the Netherlands. You can choose a number yourself that suits your business best. If you business is located in Amsterdam, you want to make sure it has the right city code prefix (020). Alternatively you can choose a commercial information number with a prefix such as "088". Our recommendation for a VoIP service is MijnBereik.

E-commerce spending in the Netherlands by age group.
E-commerce spending in the Netherlands by age group.

Accounting for e-commerce

Depending on the legal entity there are a few other administrative issues to take care of. Since most foreign entrepreneurs opening an online business in the Netherlands will choose a BV (limited company), that is what we will discuss here. For a sole proprietorship, the administration burden is slightly lower.

First of all, your Dutch ecommerce business should keep an orderly accounting. The books should be kept at least 7 years. The advantage of a digital business is that your sales can easily be transferred into online accounting software. There are several integrations between the most used e-commerce platforms and the main accounting software programs.

Secondly, your business will need to submit a quarterly VAT return. You will most likely charge VAT (or in Dutch: BTW) on the products you sell to your Dutch and European consumers. At the same time you are probably buying the goods from a supplier. That supplier charges you the buying price including VAT. That VAT including VAT paid on any other costs you have made for the business, will be deducted from the amount of VAT you have charged your customers. In the quarterly VAT/BTW return you hand over these number to the tax authorities. Based on that filing you will either receive an amount back or you will need to pay an amount to the tax authorities. You need to have a Dutch bank account where the Belastingdienst can transfer any returns to.

Thirdly, a Dutch BV will need to submit an annual corporate income tax return. This is usually done by an accountant. Based on this it will be determined how much corporate tax you need to pay. If you are not running a profit yet, you will still need to file for this tax return.

Fourth, the accountant will draft a annual financial report (annual accounts). You will check this and afterwards this will be deposited at the chamber of commerce. Failing in doing so can lead to extended personal liability for the company's actions, so it is crucial to do this.

Optionally, in case you have one or more employees on the payroll, you will need to register as an employer and keep a salary administration.

Best accounting software for Dutch e-commerce business

The accounting software you should use depends on the software you are working with. We advise you to work with accounting software that Dutch accountants are used to working with. Even if you are starting up as a one-man company without an accountant, the moment you grow and you want to switch to a BV company, it is much more practical if you can use the same software you are used to working with.

The most important thing with choosing the right accounting software is that it integrates well with our webshop. Preferably, this is a direct integration with works both ways. That means changes made in the webshop orders are immediately reflected in the accounting program and vice versa.

The most used online accounting software for e-commerce and online businesses in general is Exact accounting. This is mainly due to its many integrations with all the different webshop software systems. A good alternative is Visma eAccounting.

Warehouse / fulfilment in the Netherlands

If your Dutch business is shipping physical goods, these orders need to be processed, shipped, tracked and new products need to be re-ordered at you supplier to keep your inventory up-to-date.

The Netherlands is a hotspot for so-called fulfilment centers. Fulfillment is the entire process of storing and sending your goods and everything that has to do with that. A fulfillment center can take over this entire process and carry out the logistics operation for an e-commerce company. A company can therefore choose to carry out its fulfillment itself or have it done by a fulfillment company. When carrying out the fulfillment itself, a company must rent a warehouse for storage, hire warehouse employees for order processing, and conclude contracts with a transport service. If the company chooses to outsource the fulfillment, it only needs to find a suitable fulfillment party that can arrange the entire process. At a fulfillment center you usually pay for the storage of the goods and an amount per shipment. Fulfillment centers have large warehouses and many staff and provide storage and shipping for many companies. As a result, they benefit from economies of scale that the small business owner alone could not make use of. You can find a comparison of fees and fulfilment centers on Transportscanner.

Alternatively you can rent a warehouse yourself. A good place to start your search for a location is the property search website for businesses Fundainbusiness, which offers both property for sale and warehouse rentals.

E-commerce purchase amounts in the Netherlands
E-commerce purchase amounts in the Netherlands

Shipping your goods

If you are deciding to take care of the fulfilment yourself, an important part of the chain is the shipping. The Netherlands has a dense network of road that make shipping to any corner of the country possible in a matter of hours. Usually you will ship your goods using one of the four large package delivery services: DHL, PostNL, DPD or UPS. You can either sign a contract with them directly. Once you contact them, they will make a customized quote for you based on the amount of parcels you are planning on sending. Every year this contract will be renewed based on your current quantities. All the mentioned delivery companies offer B2C and B2B shipping.

If you have a small to medium-sized e-commerce operation, we recommend you to take a look at Sendcloud. This is a shipping tool that makes processing shipping labels a breeze. Furthermore, it integrates really well with many ecommerce platforms. It also allows you to upload your existing shipping contract into the program.

EORI

If your business imports goods from outside of the EU into the Netherlands, you should have an EORI registration with the Dutch tax and customs authorities. This is a simple process consisting of filling out a form. You can find more information on this on the website of the Belastingdienst.

Sell on other e-commerce platforms

One of the largest webshops in the Netherlands is Bol.com. More than just a large retailer, they have turned into an e-commerce platform where retailers can sell their goods. Even brick-and-mortar shops without an online sales channel can use Bol.com to sell their goods. Bol.com even offers a full e-fulfilment solution, so you only have to focus on improving your product and marketing efforts.

Selling goods on the Bol.com partner platform can be interesting for both small and large webshops. Just like Amazon, it does charge a bit for it. If you are shipping low-margin products it might not always be worth it. The fees can be up to 15-20 percent on some categories. On some others this is much less.

The same goes for Amazon, which has arrived in the Netherlands recently. Besides a commission fee on sales Amazon also charges a monthly subscription fee. Again, depending on your business this can be worthwhile.

A third interesting Dutch marketplace where you can sell directly to consumers is Marktplaats. This is one of the Netherlands' oldest and well-known shopping platforms. Their Marktplaats Admarkt is their marketing platform for ecommerce businesses which is largely an advertising channel where you can attract customers to your website, much like Google Ads. However, in our experience the Marktplaats advertising possibilities for (online) retail businesses are more affordable and offer a more direct and effective acquisition channel than other similar platforms. Recently Marktplaats has also opened up for direct purchases of your products on the Marktplaats website itself.

Size of internet sales of Dutch customers at EU (non-Dutch) webshops
Size of internet sales of Dutch customers at EU (non-Dutch) webshops

Selling your e-commerce business

If you have an up-and-running e-commerce business and you want to sell it, there are several online platforms you could use to do exactly that. A highly specialized platform is Webshopovername.nl. This platform offers a easy to use marketplace to put your e-commerce business out for sale at a low rate. Their team can even go all the way and take the complete sales process out of your hands. A platform with a broader orientation is Brookz. They do not only facilitate the sale of e-commerce business but all sorts of companies.

Assistance with setting up a e-commerce business in the Netherlands

Legalee is a full-service provider of company startup services. Our clients are foreign entrepreneurs and businesses who want to develop a serious business activity in the Netherlands. Many of our clients are selling goods or services online. Our team has many years of experience in doing exactly that. If you need any assistance in setting up an online business in the Netherlands, we are happy to help you get things moving. Feel free to send us an email or fill out the form below.

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