There is something very personal about sending or receiving mail, but these last few decades the practice has largely been replaced by email. While a message doesn’t necessarily have to be conveyed on an actual piece of paper, needless to say the same doesn’t apply to objects. Consequently, parcels are now the main source of revenue for postal service operators, and their most reliable source of future income.
eCommerce has both spawned and benefitted from this societal shift. Most eCommerce activity is generated by big platforms whose business model relies entirely on online sales, with no front shops.
I believe that eCommerce and the digital single market are an opportunity for all European retailers to open the online door, broaden their scope of operation and sell their products outside their shop, both nationally and all over the EU.
eCommerce is, by definition, the ultimate breaker of remaining national borders: it is the 21st century combination of the free movements of goods and the freedom to provide services. But it’s not just about commercial opportunities.
It’s also a way to circulate local cultural products and art craft. This endeavour will be successful if in a couple of years from now, buying items from your corner shop in Portugal is just as easy as ordering them from a shop in Estonia.
When asked about their primary concerns when shopping online, consumers’ top three answers were price, delivery options and return policy. Therefore, these are the topics on which we must focus our efforts.
The parcel delivery market is still relatively new, and as such policymakers know very little about it. The enormous progress achieved in the last years is undeniable, both for national and cross-border deliveries.
Operators have invested considerably to provide tailor-made services and bring their prices down, and this has boosted the emergence of eCommerce.
However, there are significant price differences between the member states - sometimes on a same route - and consumers are generally unaware of the different delivery options available, and don’t always have a choice between providers.
The regulation about to be adopted is a step in the right direction. It will ensure the Commission and national regulators have a better picture of the parcel delivery market. It’s impossible to produce good legislation without a deep understanding of the situation at hand and its implications.
The data collected will allow us to make a sound decision, and will provide consumers with access to a website presenting all the different options at their disposal. Price transparency is good for consumers and will clear the basis for fair competition between current and future operators.
More importantly, the core of the regulation relies on the affordability test to be performed by the national regulatory authorities on the prices for the delivery of single piece items. The regulatory authorities will have clear guidelines to assess the price of these services, thereby exposing any irregularities there could be in the price structure and which in the long-run are detrimental to the consumers.
The key aspect of this provision is its limitation to ‘single piece items’, which refers to over-the-counter prices, which are the prices paid by a consumer when sending one single package, or a small retailer shipping a limited amount of goods. Those prices are not negotiated between the operators and a platform or bigger shops - they are paid by the small retailers for whom online selling is today only a small part of their business.
Those retailers are precisely the local craft shops or local producers that we hope will benefit from the digital single market. We must provide them with a framework that encourages them to start or step up their online activity on their own, without having to rely on bigger structure.
This small step towards a more effective and transparent cross-border market for parcel delivery services will eventually call for more of them.
One aspect I would hope to see in the future is the development of proper cross-border initiatives: today operators mostly rely on a national structure where national hubs centralise most of the traffic.
It is easy to imagine initiatives in border regions with operators starting a business model purely on cross-border exchanges without necessarily transiting through central hubs.