European Business Summit: Tapping the potential of the e-commerce market for Europe – The best possible scenario for the Digitalisation of the Internal Market

This contribution forms part of a series of articles which One Policy Place will publish in the next few days. We report from the European Business Summit which took place from 22 to 23 May in Brussels. Our articles summarise some of the sessions and detail the developments for policy and business which were highlighted by the speakers.

Tapping the potential of the e-commerce market for Europe – The best possible scenario for the Digitalisation of the Internal Market with Cecilia Bonefeld-Dahl, DIGITALEUROPE, Director General; Tomasz Husak, European Commission, Head of Cabinet to Commissioner Bienkowska; Amit Kapur, Tata Consultancy Services, Director & Head Benelux; Thierry Moubax, Bpost, SVP Marketing Bpack; Isabel Rocher, DS Smith – Packaging Division, Head of e-commerce Solutions; and Christian Verschueren, EuroCommerce, Director-General

Tomasz Husak, the Head of Cabinet to the Commissioner for Internal Market, Industry, Entrepreneurship and SMEs, Elżbieta Bieńkowska, opened the panel by noting that there was huge political will to achieve the Digital Single Market, which was a near impossible thought just a few years ago.

“Everything is about digital” is what industry was saying in 2017. While it can be said that the Commission has already delivered on some issues, the Commission still has some areas that it needs to address – such as online shopping.

On this theme, Husak argued that consumers should have the right to know the costs involved in parcel delivery, and the market has to become more transparent. Speaking for the Commission, he noted that flexibility is needed, so that the current framework could also be workable in the future.

The EU would have to wait and see how businesses developed in the collaborative economy, but the Commission would not block their path.

Following from this, Amit Kapur from Tata Consultancy spoke about the flexibility consumers wanted. The Commission would have to help Member States to interpret the existing legislation in an increasingly digital world. Husak replied to Kapur, saying that “unless markets demonstrated their demands, governments would not attend those demands”, referring to the need for companies to tell the Commission what they want.

Next, Cecilia Bonefeld-Dahl, the Director General of DIGITALEUROPE, made two points on how e-commerce’s potential could be furthered in Europe.

Firstly, she said that it is crucial that the European market is not fragmented. Europe is a market heavily focused on SMEs, yet only 7% of them currently trade across borders. A fragmented market leads to businesses suffering, since they cannot scale up their operations.

Secondly, consumer protection is crucial, since it gives European companies a competitive advantage. However, she did note that the use of Big Data was not yet commonplace in Europe, and according to her, this diminishes the level of service that companies could provide in the EU. 

A question was then asked by a member of the audience, concerning the differences in European consumer behaviour – some prefer open data, whereas others disavow it. Some lived in urban areas, others in rural. Could a one-size-fits-all approach even work?

Husak answered the question first, saying that this was for the markets to decide – consumers will make their choices based on the options available.

The Director-General of Eurocommerce, Christian Verscheuren contributed to the discussion by arguing that there were opportunities for both consumers and businesses in e-commerce. Consumers could do more shopping across borders, and businesses could enlarge their sales revenues. However, he criticised the fact that barriers still exist, insisting that these needed to broken down: Why are businesses obliged to deliver cross-border on one hand, but could only buy from national organisations on the other?

Another question as posed to the panel by an audience member on introducing a system of certification for e-commerce websites, so that consumers could feel comfortable with sharing their data. In response, Verscheuren said that Eurocommerce was helping its members to prepare to comply with the General Data Protection Regulation.

Joining the discussion on e-commerce was Thierry Moubax, who was representing the logistics provider Bpost. He said that people bought online because of the ease of ordering and receiving products.

Bpost is seeing double-digit growth, Moubax said, and this would only increase further. He also gave an insight into consumer behaviour, for instance that when businesses had brick-and-mortar shops, businesses were able to increase online sales, since consumers trusted them more.

According to Moubax, the trouble with parcel delivery was that retailers thought it should be free, but of course that would be impossible.

E-commerce had to overcome the “cross-border frontier,” he said, meaning that no logistics service would provide national and cross-border parcel delivery at the same cost.

Furthermore, the problem was seen as being the same for remote and urban consumers. On this point, Isabel Rocher from DS Smith made an interesting suggestion. She said, for remote consumers, drone deliveries could cut the price and the timeframe for parcel deliveries.

Rocher went on to urge the participants to think positively – as drones would not even have been taken into account around 10 years ago.

She also suggested that packaging needed to be adapted. She could not understand why there are two types of packaging for products: one for the brick-and-mortar sales, and one for online sales. Packaging designed for both types of sale will be crucial for improving sustainability, since parcel boxes could then be avoided.

Moubax and Rocher both agreed, however, that logistics enable the e-commerce of tomorrow. Both of the speakers said it was their mission to provide convenience for consumers.

You can find more information on the contracts for the online sale of goods Directive here.

You can find more information on the cross-border parcel delivery Directive here.

Source: One Policy Place

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