Exporting decorative objects to Europe
The European market for decorative objects is growing. Developing countries are its main suppliers. Germany, the Netherlands and the United Kingdom have a particularly strong market for developing countries. This makes them especially interesting focus countries. Important trends are adding functionality, cultural touches, humour and collectability to your decorative objects. Environmental and social sustainability are also becoming increasingly important values. Decorative objects are mainly mid-market and therefore price-sensitive products, but they do have a top segment.
Contents of this page
- Product description
- Which European markets offer opportunities for exporters of decorative objects?
- What trends offer opportunities on the European market for decorative objects?
- What requirements should decorative objects comply with to be allowed on the European market?
- What competition do you face on the European decorative objects market?
- Through which channels can you get decorative objects on the European market?
- What are the end market prices for decorative objects?
Decorative objects are figurines and abstract objects to accessorise the home. They can be either hanging (‘wall decoration’) or standing. Different styles let consumers choose objects that match their personal taste. This makes decorative objects in the home rather personal. Consumers like objects to fit in with the overall style of the home or room.
Themes are varied, but usually:
- animals, especially birds, cats, elephants;
- human or humanoid figures, especially Buddha’s and fantasy figures such as fairies;
- abstracts, including letters of the alphabet.
Most decorative objects have a relatively permanent place in the home, except for accessories related to specific occasions, such as Christmas or Easter. These are usually removed after the event. Souvenirs are another specific category. These are visual memories of the places people have visited, such as Delft Blue accessories from the Netherlands.
This study uses the following codes to indicate trade in decorative objects:
Table 1: Product codes
Harmonised System (HS)
Statuettes and other ornamental ceramic articles of porcelain or china not elsewhere specified
Statuettes and other ornamental articles of common pottery not elsewhere specified
Statuettes and other ornamental articles of stoneware not elsewhere specified
Statuettes and other ornamental articles of earthenware or fine pottery not elsewhere specified
Statuettes and other ornamental ceramic articles, not elsewhere specified (excluding those made of porcelain or china, common pottery, earthenware or fine pottery)
Statuettes and other ornamental ceramic articles not elsewhere specified (excluding those made of porcelain or china, common pottery, stoneware, earthenware or fine pottery)
Statuettes and other ornaments, of okoume, obeche, sapelli, sipo, acajou, afrique, makore, iroko, tiama, mansonia, ilomba, dibetou, limba, azobe, dark red, light red, white or yellow meranti, meranti bakau, white lauan, white seraya, alan, keruing
Statuettes and other ornaments, of wood (excluding 4420.10-11)
Statuettes and other ornaments, of base metal, plated with precious metal (excluding works of art, collectors pieces and antiques)
Statuettes and other ornaments, of base metal, not plated with precious metal (excluding works of art, collectors'' pieces and antiques)
Statuettes and other ornaments of copper, not plated with precious metal (excluding works of art, collectors pieces, and antiques)
Statuettes and other ornaments of base metals other than copper, not plated with precious metal (excluding works of art, collectors pieces, and antiques)
Wooden toys representing animals or non-human creatures
These codes use the term ‘statuettes’. However, in trade this product group is called ‘decorative objects’. This document uses ‘decorative objects’ too.
This document focuses on indoor decorative objects. It discusses items produced in series (from mass to limited edition), rather than one-offs and art. European consumers use decorative objects in any room in the house. They also place them outdoors, on the veranda or in the garden.
Decorative objects have no functional benefits, but are valued for their beauty. As this depends on personal taste, consumers often buy decorative objects for themselves. However, they can also be nice gifts.
Decorative objects can come in any kind of material:
- natural materials, such as wood, metal, ceramics, glass, stone;
- synthetics, such as plastics, resins, or composite materials.
They can be hand-made or industrially produced.
Decorative objects are designed to be beautiful. Innovative design can increase the value of a decorative object.
They have to be well constructed and should not come apart easily. Especially in mature markets, consumers can choose the level of quality that suits them best.
Information on the outer carton should correspond with the packing list sent to the importer.
Labels on the outer box should include information such as:
If an item is fragile or needs to be kept upright, you should state this on the outer box.
EAN or barcodes on the product label are common in Europe.
Your buyer will specify what information they need on the product labels or on the item itself. For instance logos or 'made in…' information. This is part of the order specifications.
Use the English language for labelling of the outer packing. Use the language of the destination market for the consumer packaging. Unless your buyer indicates otherwise.
Packing decorative items for export can be difficult. They are often fragile and do not easily fit into boxes for flat-packing. This can lead to transport damage or high transport costs, more so than with other categories in home decoration. Exporters of decorative objects are often very experienced in this, usually through trial and error. Keep transport needs in mind when designing your decorative objects.
You should pack decorative objects according to the importer’s instructions. They have their own specific requirements for:
- the use of packing materials;
- the filling of boxes;
- the stowing of containers.
Always ask for the importer’s order specifications. These are part of the purchase order. The growing e-tail market requires individual packing, for easy transport to the end consumer.
Europe has specific packaging and packaging waste legislation. For instance, it restricts the use of certain heavy metals.
Europe also has requirements for wood packaging materials (WPM) used for transport, such as:
- packing cases
- box pallets
Proper packaging minimises the risk of damage caused by shocks. How an item is packaged for export depends on how easily it can be damaged. You should make sure the items inside a cardboard box cannot damage each other.
Furthermore, the packing usually consists of inner and outer cardboard boxes. The outer boxes prevent damage to the inner boxes when they are stacked inside the container. The inner boxes are often filled with protective material such as bubble wrap or paper, depending on the buyer’s preferences.
Dimensions and weight
Make sure your packaging is easy to handle in terms of dimensions and weight. Standards are often related to labour regulations at the point of destination. The buyer will have to specify them.
Cartons are usually palletised for air or sea transport. Exporters have to optimally utilise the available pallet space.
For decorative objects, reducing transport and transportation emissions is key. You can do this by flat-packing or efficiently stocking the items in the container. This also reduces costs. Consider this in your products’ design phase.
Packaging has to ensure maximum protection. However, you also have to avoid using excess materials or shipping ‘air’. Waste removal is a cost to buyers. You can reduce the amount and diversity of packaging materials by:
- considering packaging and logistical requirements when designing your products;
- asking your buyer for alternatives.
Importers are increasingly banning wooden crates and packing. This is due to their unsustainability and high cost of both the material and the disposal thereof. Economical and sustainable packing materials are more popular. Using biodegradable packing materials can be a market opportunity. It can even be a requirement, especially for buyers of decorative objects.
Wooden decorative objects
Wooden decorative objects can mould or crack. You need to properly dry the wood after production. Condensation inside the container during transport can cause mould due to humid air that becomes colder at night and warmer during the day. You need proper ventilation inside the container to prevent this. Before shipment, you must make sure the containers have air holes. There are also special products available which help reduce humidity amongst the cargo. Make sure the importer’s instructions are followed here.
European imports of decorative objects have recovered strongly from a dip in 2013. Developing countries are Europe’s main decorative object suppliers. Europe’s main importers of decorative objects are:
- the Netherlands
- the United Kingdom
Germany, the Netherlands and the United Kingdom have a particularly strong market for developing countries. This makes them especially interesting focus countries.
- In 2014 and 2015, European imports of decorative objects recovered strongly from a dip in 2013. They reached € 1.3 billion in 2015. This resulted in an average annual growth rate of 4.3% between 2011 and 2015.
- In the coming years, European imports are expected to keep growing moderately.
- Developing countries are Europe’s main source of decorative objects. They supply over 68% of European imports. This amounted to € 877 million in 2015. This share is predicted to increase slightly in the coming years.
- Germany is Europe’s leading importer of decorative objects, with € 324 million in 2015. The Netherlands (€ 182 million), the United Kingdom (€ 132 million) and France (€ 132 million) follow.
- These main importing countries are also leading when it comes to imports from developing countries. Especially Germany, the Netherlands and the United Kingdom, with about 80-90% of their total decorative object imports.
- In these top 3 countries, imports from developing countries grew strongly between 2011 and 2015. With between € 39 million and € 49 million each.
- China dominates European decorative object imports, with 57% in 2015. Other leading suppliers from developing countries are India and Vietnam.
- Focus on Germany, the Netherlands and the United Kingdom. Their strong imports from developing countries make them especially interesting markets.
- Compare your products and company to the strong competition from China, as well as India and Vietnam. You can use ITC Trademap to find exporters per country. You can compare:
- market segment
- target countries
- European exports of decorative objects consist mainly of trade within Europe.
- Germany (€ 192 million) and the Netherlands (€ 113 million) are Europe’s leading decorative object exporters.
Production and consumption
- Europe’s demand for decorative objects is considerably higher than its production. This drives the need for imports, making Europe an interesting market.
- European production of decorative objects is relatively stable around € 780 million. Between 2010 and 2014, this resulted in an average annual growth rate of 0.6%.
- Like the imports, European consumption of decorative objects is recovering from a dip in 2013. They recovered with 6.2% growth to € 1.1 billion in 2014.
- Germany and Italy are responsible for 25% and 21% of European decorative object production respectively.
- European consumption of decorative objects is highest in Germany at € 254 million. Italy follows with € 170 million and France with € 156 million.
Add uniqueness to your product to compete with European producers.
Real private consumption expenditure
- Private consumption expenditure is an important indicator for the European home decoration market. The sector is closely linked to economic conditions. When money is tight, consumers postpone buying non-essential items until they have enough disposable income.
- Between 2015 and 2017, European private consumption expenditure is expected to increase. This means that consumption of luxury and decorative products is likely to rise. Especially in emerging markets, consumers will have more money available to spend on these products. Consumers in mature markets already spend a fair amount of money on luxury, so growth in their consumption will be moderate.
European consumers are increasingly trying to declutter their homes. They look for products that help to store, organise or hide any clutter.
Decorative objects are a strong countertrend to this need, as consumers continue to enjoy these around them. This is because consumers like their home to match their personal taste and decorate it accordingly. These decorative objects have no functional value. Instead, they let consumers enjoy the beauty of their living room, for instance, and help them get away from any stress in the outside world. This is the main driver behind the demand for decorative objects.
From functional to decorative
Out of playfulness and feeling young again, European consumers like to make functional objects decorative.
- stickers to give light switches faces;
- wall hooks in the shape of hands;
- desk tidies shaped like a ship;
- paper clips shaped like penguins;
- a cable container in the shape of a dog;
- door handles shaped like birds.
- Consider developing separate lines of functional products, using your specific materials and techniques. For instance, manufacturers offering wooden figurines can add wooden doorknobs in decorative shapes.
From decorative to functional
At the same time, European consumers like decorative objects to be functional. They have a rational need for interior products to ‘work’.
For instance, figurines that function as:
- tea lights
- money banks
- bijoux or spectacle holders
As decoration merges with functional areas like cooking, home decoration becomes more and more cross-category.
- Consider adding functionality to your objects. However, think this through carefully. A good decorative object in itself appeals to the consumer.
- You can also develop separate lines of functional decorative objects, using already available materials and techniques.
Different consumers with different preferences
European consumers like to make their own collections. Decorative objects are traditionally interesting for collectors, who feel the need to complete their collections.
A renewed interest in culture leads to ethnic influences on decorative objects. Think of traditional patterns and designs. Or actual cultural objects, such as Japanese Kokeshi good-luck dolls.
The fair trade segment offers decorative objects close to the traditional designs of particular ethnic groups. For instance, African statuettes or masks.
Culturally inspired nativities are popular at Christmas time, an important moment for decorating the home.
Humour is in, also when it comes to decorative objects. European consumers like fun and light-hearted objects. For instance through the use of quirky shapes, parody, subtle or risqué (design) jokes. If done well, humour can be a good way to connect to consumers. However, it is not easy to apply humour as it is often personal or cultural.
- Develop a way for consumers to start collecting your items. Offering different types, characters, colours or frequent updates and additions.
- Add a touch of your local context or culture to your decorative objects. Be aware, though, that the more ethnic your items, the more niche they will be.
- For more information on Christmas-related decorative items, see our studies about nativity sets and Christmas articles.
- If you want to add humour to your items, carefully study the market. Look for successful examples and study how they apply humour. Then look at how you can use humour to match your own identity.
Sustainability is important to European consumers, especially in mature markets. After a slow start, this trend is beginning to influence decorative objects too. Decorative objects are often made of non-sustainable composite materials. Now, environmentally friendly options are becoming more widely available. The fair trade segment also continues to be strong in decorative objects.
- To meet the growing demand for sustainable products, you can consider:
- renewable materials;
- socially and environmentally sustainable production methods;
- clever transport solutions;
- options for recycling or re-use of your products.
- Clearly promote the sustainable aspects of your products.
- Consider applying for sustainable and/or fair trade certification. See our study about buyer requirements for Home Decoration & Home Textiles for more information.
- For more information on environmental and social sustainability, see our study on sustainability in the home sector.
- For more information on environmentally friendly materials in particular, see our study on marketing your sustainable raw materials.
See our study about trends for Home Decoration & Home Textiles for more information on general trends in the sector.
See our study about buyer requirements for Home Decoration & Home Textiles for the requirements applying to decorative objects.
What legal and non-legal requirements must your product comply with?
General product safety
The European Union’s General Product Safety Directive applies to all consumer products, including decorative objects. It states that all products marketed in Europe must be safe to use.
- Read more about the General Product Safety Directive in the EU Export Helpdesk.
- Also use your common sense to ensure normal use of your product does not cause any danger.
- The RAPEX database lists products that the European Union has rejected at the border, or withdrawn from the market. Check the database for decorative objects for an idea of what issues may arise.
Restricted chemicals: REACH
The REACH regulation lists restricted chemicals in products that are marketed in Europe. For instance, REACH restricts the use of:
- lead in the paints and glazing of ceramics;
- cadmium compounds in various applications;
- arsenic and creosotes as wood preservatives.
- The European Chemical Agency provides useful information and tips on REACH. See for instance:
- REACH Annex XVII, a list of all restricted chemicals;
- Information on REACH for companies established outside Europe;
- Questions & Answers on REACH.
According to the European Union’s Timber Regulation, you must prove any timber used was harvested legally. This also applies to wooden decorative objects. Products with a FLEGT or CITES license comply with the Timber Regulation.
- For more information, see the Frequently Asked Questions about the Timber Regulation.
- The EU FLEGT Facility has more information about FLEGT licensing.
- For more information on CITES permits, you can contact your National CITES Management Authority.
What additional requirements do buyers often have?
Social and environmental sustainability make your products stand out on the European market. Think of sustainable raw materials and production processes. European buyers increasingly demand the following certification schemes:
- Business Social Compliance Initiative (BSCI): European retailers developed this initiative to improve social conditions in sourcing countries. They expect their suppliers to comply with the BSCI code of conduct. To prove compliance, the importer can request an audit of your production process. Once a company is audited, it is included in a database for all BSCI participants.
- Ethical Trading Initiative (ETI): This initiative is an alliance of companies, trade unions and voluntary organisations. It aims to improve the working lives of people across the globe that make or grow consumer goods.
- Optimise your sustainability performance. Reading up on the issues included in the initiatives will give you an idea of what to focus on.
- Buyers appreciate a good story. If you can show that you considered your company’s performance, this may be a competitive advantage. For instance with a self-assessment like the BSCI Self-Assessment for Producers, or a code of conduct such as the BSCI Code of Conduct and the ETI base code.
- For more information, see our special study on Sustainability in the Home Sector.
What are the requirements for niche markets?
The concept of fair trade supports fair pricing and improved social conditions for producers and their communities. For ceramic decorative objects, a lot of labour goes into decorating the objects (by hand). Especially when the production of your decorative objects is labour intensive, fair trade certification can give you a competitive advantage.
Common fair trade certifications are from:
- Ask buyers what they are looking for. Especially in the fair trade sector, you can use the story behind your product for marketing purposes.
- Check the ITC Standards map database for more information on voluntary standards and their requirements, including fair production.
FSC (Forest Stewardship Council) certification is the most common label for sustainable wooden products, including decorative objects. The FSC label guarantees that a product’s source material comes from responsibly managed forests. These products are especially popular in Western European markets.
For more information, see the three steps towards FSC certification.
Respirable Crystalline Silica (RCS) can cause lung cancer through inhalation. The ceramics industry mostly uses crystalline silica in the form of quartz and cristobalite. Although European legislation cannot regulate working conditions in non-European countries, European buyers care about worker safety. They may demand good handling of crystalline silica during production.
- For more information in various languages, see the European Network on Silica. For instance::
The competition for decorative objects does not differ significantly from the sector in general. See our study about competition for Home Decoration & Home Textiles for a general overview. Also refer to our top 10 tips for doing business with European buyers.
The market channels and segments for decorative objects do not differ significantly from the sector in general. See our study about market channels and segments for Home Decoration & Home Textiles for a general overview.
E-commerce in home decoration is increasing. It can help you reach a broader range of customers. Retailers often combine online and offline channels. Consumers research and purchase products online. They shop around and compare prices on home decoration items. Small (gift) items such as decorative objects are especially suitable for this.
To supply e-commerce, you have to be able to work with:
- individual packing;
- individual labelling;
- limited minimum orders.
- See our special study about E-commerce in Home Decoration & Home Textiles for more information.
- Target online business-to-consumer retailers if you can meet the additional requirements.
Trade associations and fairs
These trade associations and fairs are useful sources for finding trading partners in Europe.
- Aid to Artisans, international non-profit organisation for the craft sector
- Ambiente, Frankfurt, February
- Christmasworld, Frankfurt, January
- IMM, Cologne, January
- Maison et Objet, Paris, January (main) and September
- Spring Fair, Birmingham, February
- Tendence, Frankfurt, August
Decorative objects are mainly mid-market products. They add to the overall style and atmosphere of the home, such as romantic, baroque or classic. This atmosphere often seems more important than the quality of the craftsmanship and design. Therefore, suppliers to this part of the market are masters of style. Within the mid-market, there are lower and higher segments.
There is no real low-end market, because decorative objects are not functional basics. However, the middle segment does have a distinct lower side. The decorative objects in this mid-low segment are inexpensive ‘knickknacks’.
There is also a clear mid-high segment. Here, decorative objects can become quite exclusive, bordering art. In terms of volume, the mid-low segment is the largest. However, the higher segments currently offer most opportunities. This is because China dominates the mass market, which is hard to compete with.
Decorative objects are all about looks. Decorative value largely determines the price perception for the average mid-market consumer. This is related to trend and how the objects blend in with the style of the interior. Price, therefore, is mainly mid-market and fairly sensitive.
In the higher segment, prices can soar. These consumers are more selective and demanding about:
- brand or designer name
Table 2: Indicative consumer prices for decorative objects
Mid-High to Premium
Up to € 10
Up to € 40
€ 100 and over
- The value perception of your product in the chosen segment determines its price. You must offer the expected quality in your chosen target segment. Your price needs to match that of similar products. To determine your price, study consumer prices in your target segment. Adjust your cost accordingly.
Please review our market information disclaimer.