EU Parcelled into One?

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The Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS) has signalled the UK’s support for the work being undertaken by the European Commission (EC) to address problems with cross border delivery within the single market. As part of its Digital Single Market Strategy, the EC has identified concerns about high prices and slow delivery times that ultimately make cross border e-retail far less efficient than domestic delivery options. Indeed a study on parcel list prices shows that cross-border parcel prices for national postal operators are almost five times higher than their domestic equivalents.

BIS pinpoints what it sees as the main problems holding back cross border e-retail and considers a lack of information, from the perspective of both consumer and retailer, to be a key issue. When attempting to purchase something from a retailer in another member state the delivery time and returns policy is often unclear, which can put consumers off going through with the purchase. Smaller e-retailers are also poorly informed about the delivery options available to them and can therefore be reluctant to offer international delivery. These issues restrict the range of products available to consumers and keep cross border e-retail as the preserve of larger, often multinational, retailers, thus hindering competition.

It is clear that there is no quick fix to these problems and consequently BIS has supplied a series of recommendations, the combined effect of which will, BIS predicts, result in an effective cross-border parcel delivery market. These include:

  • working with delivery operators and e-retailers to ensure consistent and up front delivery information on their websites, covering available delivery options, costs, and returns policies;
  • encouraging the sharing of best practices;
  • development of an online information platform for small e-retailers, enabling them to easily identify available delivery options on particular routes;
  • collection of data on delivery quality, which would be made available to consumers and e-retailers to encourage competition; and
  • assisting governments and national regulators in identifying anti-competitive practices, enhancing innovation, and designing appropriate policy interventions.

BIS’s recommendations inevitably fall someway short of concrete changes in cross border parcel delivery, however they do demonstrate an appetite (even amongst the more Eurosceptic nations like the UK) for greater cooperation in the pursuit of a true Digital Single Market. Indeed, the prospect of quick and reliable parcel delivery across the continent may even be enough to persuade one or two wavering voters to vote ‘yes’ in the upcoming in/out EU referendum!

The Commission itself is due to launch measures in spring 2016 which, it is said, are designed to increase price transparency and regulatory oversight of the cross border parcel markets. It will be interesting to see what is put in place and the extent to which BIS’s recommendations have been heeded.

If you have any questions as to how these changes may affect cross border trade for your business, or if you need assistance with any other commercial matter, please do not hesitate to contact me at john.pickervance@forbessolicitors.co.uk or on 0800 689 0831.

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