The COVID-19 outbreak and a sustainable recovery of the EU economy

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The COVID-19 outbreak is profoundly impacting people’s daily lives, but also all sectors of the economy. As societies deal with a slow return to a new normal, discussions on what can and should be this new normal are flourishing. Business decisions in the coming years will be shaped by the major impact of the crisis on the economy, but also by the possible acceleration, under the current circumstances, of certain trends. These trends notably include the transition towards a sustainable and climate-neutral European economy.

Policymakers have strongly backed the idea of a green recovery for the EU, leveraging the European Green Deal and related policies to rebuild our economy. For the e-commerce sector, the transition to sustainable practices is becoming business as usual as the sector continues to innovate.

As Ecommerce Europe engages in various discussions with its members on the impact of the COVID-19 outbreak, some early reflections have emerged.

An evolution of consumer’s behavior?

There is no doubt that the mitigation measures against the spread of the virus have impacted how people consume. Certain behaviors could have an impact even after the end of the measures currently in place, for example in regards to more consumer acceptance for longer delivery time, which could allow merchants to offer new delivery options in the future, including proposing a longer delivery time for the most efficient and sustainable option.

In addition, the e-commerce sector has allowed smaller, local producers to continuously access and expand their client base by developing their online services, offering consumers the necessary choice and information to make informed decision about the way they want to consume.

The fading difference between offline and online

As mentioned above, the current crisis has revealed, but also accelerated, the fading distinction between “offline” and “online” commerce, with brick-and-mortar shops developing their online presence, online platforms  cooperating with brick-and-mortar shops, offering their digital infrastructure to allow them to sell  products online.

This further proves that the transition to a sustainable retail sector does not have to be built on a counter-productive comparison between the specific environmental  impact of offline or online shops, as retailers are increasingly finding the best of both to propose more sustainable options to consumers.

A holistic, omnichannel approach to the recovery and transition of the commerce sector is therefore essential.

An inclusive digital and sustainable transition

A key aspect of the discussions and early observations from the impact of the COVID-19 outbreak is that affordability and inclusiveness must be part of the green recovery and the transition to a sustainable economy. The e-commerce sector can play a role in making sustainable solutions and products widely accessible, from a revenue and geographical perspective. A clear example is the crucial importance of accessibility in rural areas, which are easily left out of the picture.

An opportunity to rethink our practices and the policies framing them

Finally, as policymakers continue their work on key pieces of legislation, it is crucial to question how our policy fosters, or hinders, the transition of sectors like e-commerce. At a moment where reusability and accessibility are at the center of the discussions, measures such as economic incentives to promote donation of unsold products – especially for specifically affected sectors like fashion – should be strongly promoted, for example by introducing VAT-relief measures for donations, which are not in place in several EU countries.

The e-commerce industry has demonstrated the role it can play as a bridge between the digitalization and the sustainable transition of our economy. Representatives of the e-commerce sector at national and European level therefore strongly support keeping the EU’s green agenda as a top priority, as this will remain – to the extent possible – a top priority for online merchants as well.

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