Main local challenges for e-commerce delivery in the EU

Main local challenges for e-commerce delivery in the EU

Almost a year ago, on 31 December 2020, the UK left the European Union. Leaving many European e-merchants in the dark. What can you still ship to the UK? How? With what maximum order value? By charging taxes in advance or not? Only one thing was certain: shipping to the rest of the EU was much easier. Many e-merchants chose to suspend sales and shipments to the UK, waiting for easier and cheaper times. Does this mean that shipping within the EU is a breeze?

Delivery possible in 27 Member States

On the face of it, yes: you can still ship to and from any of the 27 remaining EU Member States without any particular procedure. This is the principle of free movement of goods, as defined by the Treaty of Rome in 1957. Freedom of movement between countries of goods, but also of capital, services, and people. These are the four fundamental freedoms that define the European single market.

According to Fevad, there are more than 550 million inhabitants in Europe, 87% of whom have access to the Internet, and more than half of them place orders there (67%). In 2019, the European e-commerce turnover amounted to €636 billion, an increase of 14% compared to the previous year. The largest markets within the European Union are France (2019 e-commerce turnover of €103 billion) and Germany (€94 billion), followed by Spain (€53 billion) and Italy (€32 billion). The ease and fluidity of ordering and delivery on your e-shop are therefore essential for European consumers.

Local delivery peculiarities extend to the four corners of Europe

However, although most goods can circulate between the different Member States of the European Union without incurring taxes or customs formalities. The delivery preferences specific to each country should not be underestimated. Indeed, from West to East and from North to South of Europe, there are particularities that must be taken into account in order to best satisfy consumer expectations. Globalization is at work: while it is perfectly possible to ship globally. The post-purchase experience must be perfected with the local preferences of each market. Which are often linked to their degree of e-commerce maturity.

Buy now, pay later

For example, some countries such as Germany will have very high return flows. Indeed, consumers there have developed the habit. Particularly for their purchases of clothing and shoes, of ordering several sizes at once in order to keep only the one that will fit. Some markets are even setting up “buy now pay later” mechanisms that allow consumers to pay only for the item that is not returned to the warehouse, after receiving and processing the returned package. It is, therefore, necessary to anticipate the management and cost of these return flows. Which may seem disproportionate to an uninformed e-tailer.

Cash on delivery

In other parts of the EU, particularly in Italy and Eastern Europe, cash on delivery is the norm. The concept? The consumer pays on delivery. This custom, which may seem incidental to us, is nevertheless a must: in these countries mistrust of online payments reigns. And very few transactions are made on merchant websites, or more often by means of prepaid cards. These do not facilitate repeat purchases because they lapse from one use to the next and cannot be saved for future orders. If the e-merchant does not implement “cash on delivery”, he risks being confronted with “see online, buy offline” behavior. As customers will consult product details online but will go shopping in person. The e-merchant will then have to invest in deploying a physical retail network in order to see its sales take off.

Choice of delivery location

The choice of delivery location also has its local peculiarities. Indeed, one in two Spaniards (51%) is familiar with click & collect, while one in four Italians (25%) prefers to be delivered to the office. Germany is the European pioneer country for lockers: Packstations were developed by DHL in the early 2000s! It may therefore be a good idea to offer this method of delivery.

Time of delivery

Finally, concerning the time of delivery, unfortunately, as everywhere else in the world, the sooner it is received, the better! Nevertheless, it is important to know that in the smallest territories of Europe, such as the Benelux, the inhabitants are used to receiving their orders placed on local sites within 24 hours. You should therefore try to compete with this processing time to gain a foothold in the market. Even if you do not have a local logistics center. Most of these countries also offer Saturday deliveries. This is not necessarily the case in Southern Europe – and Belgium has recently been experimenting with Sunday delivery.

Last-mile and slow delivery

While the administrative simplicity of delivery in Europe may lead one to believe that the post-purchase experience can be standardized across the various markets of the European Union. This is far from being the case. In addition to the local standards that need to be known in order to penetrate these markets. These practices are also a source of monitoring and innovation that needs to be monitored regularly.

Finally, I think it is essential to highlight the two areas of logistical innovation that are common to all European countries:

  • the problems of last-mile
  • and slow delievry

Indeed, whether in Madrid, Rotterdam, or Budapest, all cities must face, and even more so since the Covid-19 pandemic. The resurgence of urban delivery solutions that offer to bring you groceries, parcels, fresh products, dry cleaning, and so on by a motorbike, cargo bike, scooter or other more or less electrified vehicles that have yet to be invented. In the coming years, all countries will also have to deal with the growing awareness of their citizens of eco-responsible issues. And the fundamental inconsistency of wanting to have goods delivered as quickly as possible, as cheaply as possible. But with the least possible pollution and with the best possible working conditions for the delivery personnel.

The answers that the various states will give to these questions, individually or jointly, in a normative or entrepreneurial way, will be essential in shaping the future of European e-commerce delivery.

Closing remarks

We hope that through this article you have a better understanding of the local delivery issues in Europe. Do not hesitate to contact us or to leave us a message. We’d be delighted to hear from you.

If you are interested in logistics in the European Union, take a look at the articles in this category, you might like them.

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