During the Ecommerce Europe Annual Conference of 8 June, representatives from the policy, the consumer and the industry side came together to discuss how smart harmonization at the European level can boost the e-commerce business models of the future.
“Many barriers for our online merchants still remain!”
Marc Lolivier, Vice-President Public Affairs of Ecommerce Europe, opened the session by focusing on the three main barriers that online merchants still face when selling abroad: legal issues, logistics, and taxation/VAT. “We need not only harmonized but also clear and predictable rules”, stressed Mr. Lolivier, as differing rules across Europe hamper the development of cross-border online sales. Xavier Court, Co-Founder of the web shop Vente-Privée, also explained that he faces complex regulatory barriers. “Most of the e-merchants would love to sell everywhere, but it’s very complicated”, Mr. Court stated.
Consumer rules: Commission announces public consultation
In general, participants agreed that it is necessary to simplify consumer rules, so that they can be easily understood by both consumers and retailers. After the Consumer Rights Directive, only a few legal differences remain, and more harmonization would help to fill in remaining gaps in the legislation and to increase cross-border sales. However, better enforcement is also needed, according to some participants.
To fill in the gaps, “the Commission will launch soon a public consultation on contract rules for online purchases of digital content and tangible goods”, declared Ms. Despina Spanou, Director for Consumers at Commission’s DG Justice exclusively for Ecommerce Europe. Finally, all participants agreed that the launch of the Ecommerce Europe Trustmark will be an excellent step to foster consumer trust and to increase cross-border ecommerce.
VAT: a burdensome barrier for online shops!
It was clear that differences in VAT rates and taxation systems across the EU are a big administrative burden, especially for Small and Medium Enterprises (SMEs). Everyone generally agreed that the extension of the Mini-One-Stop-Shop to the online sale of tangible goods, as proposed in the European Commission’s Digital Strategy, would be very helpful for SMEs, together with the introduction of a fixed threshold for the destination principle. However, according to a Commission representative, it is essential to find the right balance when setting the threshold to avoid any market distortion.
Privacy issues in a data driven market
The final discussion covered the data driven market, which is a key issue in e-commerce. In fact, merchants want to know their clients and help them find their way in big online stores where the offer is huge. However, to do so, online merchants need consumers’ data and shops often have to deal with big problems (e.g. trust) when collecting such data. According to a Commission representative people become more technologically savvy and there is a desire of the individual to be able to manage his privacy. There was consensus among the participants that online shops have to use (big) data in an ethical way, otherwise the consumer can punish them “in 1 click”, by simply changing shop.
In conclusion, it clearly emerged from the discussions that the European Commission is totally aware of the sense of urgency in completing the Digital Single Market. On the other hand the Commission often has to face political barriers, especially from Member States hampering the legislative process at EU level. Ecommerce Europe is ready to work together with the policy makers, the representatives of the industry and the consumer associations in fostering the development of cross-border e-commerce.