EU policymakers are hoping to support the strong growth of e-commerce by substantially improving cross-border delivery services.

E-commerce: Europe focuses on optimising parcel delivery

Online sales generated €363.1 billion worth of turnover in Europe in 2013 (+16.1%). Ecommerce Europe, a federation representing over 25,000 companies selling products and/or services online to consumers in Europe, predicts that growth will continue in the coming years, to reach €625 billion by end-2016. However, today cross-border delivery services across the Europe Union are not only expensive, they are also unreliable, and this is apparently holding back e-commerce development. The European Commission has identified several grey areas, such as the lack of interoperability among carriers, rural areas that are badly served with infrastructure, lack of information available for e-tailers – especially smaller businesses – and persistent differences between the markets in the countries involved, which are resisting harmonisation. Since 2012, the Commission has been working to support the growth of the e-commerce market and has been studying potential improvements in parcel delivery systems at EU level. The member states and EU agencies set up in each country are already working on optimising the logistics of the process and a number of digital initiatives are emerging within individual countries with a view to enhancing interoperability between national and international delivery firms.


Digital channels and innovations to drive quality services

In 2013 the German Ministry of Economy and Energy (BMWi), in partnership with private sector companies, launched its ‘Mittelstand-Digital’ project for SMEs. The purpose of the project is to develop software to collect information on products exported abroad with a view to improving firms’ logistics processes. Some of the more innovative firms are also jostling to find creative alternatives in the interests of efficient delivery. In southern Germany, Munich-based startup Emmasbox, which received a grant under an EU scheme, provides parcel pick-up stations at different locations in the city. The solution is mainly aimed at grocery stores, enabling customers to come and pick up items they have ordered whenever they like, as produce is kept in refrigerated boxes. Meanwhile further north in the city of Aachen, an interesting venture has been launched by digital communications specialist Albrecht Medien. CLAC-Citylogistik offers customers the option of delivery/pickup by bicycle or on foot for parcels going out within a fairly small radius of the city.  Evidence shows that in this field reliability ranks high in importance, and a number of schemes have been set in motion across Europe to confer trust labels on e-commerce sites. In Ireland, a number of labelling initiatives have emerged along the lines of  Digi-Sign, which provides an extended electronic signature to help deal with the logistical aspects of delivery. However, the array of individual initiatives will need to be harmonised at European level if they are to help drive cross-border commerce.


Improving information-sharing

German firm WIK Consult is currently working with the European Commission on these issues and has come up with several areas for improvement which EU policymakers might put forward in the near future. Among the recommendations from the Siegburg-based consultancy are the launch of a platform for sharing information on parcel delivery and the creation of a dashboard for firms and legislators. The idea is to set up a space where all information on cross-border services can be gathered, something that is far from being the case today. Moreover, keeping an eye on what innovative startups are doing and running workshops to enable firms to share information on new efficient technologies would help foster quality services at more affordable prices for isolated rural areas, says WIK. The report’s authors argue that creating yet another European label would not add any value, but on the other hand, developing European standards which take logistics into account is a must, they underline. Today there are still very few statistics available on cross-border parcel delivery times in Europe. This information could serve as a reference point, providing a basis for assessing the impact of new services. Moreover, the EU single market would certainly benefit from the removal of remaining legal and technical barriers, moves to foster cooperation between carriers across the market, and initiatives to promote information exchange among online parcel tracking services, WIK Consult advises the EU policymakers.

By Pauline Canteneur