The Digital Single Market: promoting e-commerce

Written on 18 Jan 2016

As we’ve discussed in previous articles, a key focus of the European Commission’s Digital Single Market initiative is to eliminate discrimination between EU consumers on the basis of their location. One of the main issues in this area is geo-blocking, but the Commission is looking at a range of means to promote cross-border e-commerce.

Parcel delivery

At the launch of the Digital Single Market, the Commission was clear that it saw cutting the cost of cross-border parcel delivery as key to getting consumers to order from other member states. Just before the end of 2015 the Commission released the results of its cross-border parcel delivery consultation.

The parcel consultation, held between May and August 2015, received responses from consumers, retailers and national postage operators, among other interest groups. The consultation has shown that parcels sent between EU countries cost five times more than those mailed domestically.

Retailers and consumers

For online retailers, track and trace capability and price are the most important considerations. The main problems that consumers reported included cost and the lack of options for delivery timing, with BEUC, the European consumer organisation, suggesting the launch of a monitoring scheme to regulate cross-border delivery. However, there were mixed views on the need for further regulation.

Postal operators

National postage operators said greater system interoperability between themselves would improve delivery services. PostEurope, the association of universal postal services, suggested that a single uniform price would provide cost benefits for long distance deliveries. PostEurope affirms that it is this system of single uniform prices that provides price transparency for consumers, adding, however, that providing greater price transparency could undermine competition and encourage concerted practices, as delivery operators would gain insight into the prices and pricing strategies of their competitors.

Next steps

For now, the Commission is not planning to regulate the parcel delivery system. However it does intend to propose measures targeting cross-border parcel delivery prices in the spring of 2016, with a focus on transparency and competition as proposed by consumer representatives.

Other developments

The Commission has also advanced in other fields. On 9 January 2016 the Commission launched an online platform for dispute resolution between online traders and European consumers as a first step to alternative dispute resolution (ADR) bodies. According to the Commission “the platform will provide consumers and traders with a new easy and fast way to settle online disputes at the click of a mouse, without having to go to court.”. Consumers and traders should have access to this platform from 15 February 2015.

Other developments are anticipated in relation to e-commerce, with all stakeholders eagerly awaiting the Commission’s findings and recommendations following the Commission’s e-commerce consultation. Osborne Clarke will keep you informed of any progress in that area, as well as of any legislative developments following the geo-blocking study.