At the end of March, when Ecommerce Europe published its first country report on the impact of the Coronavirus outbreak on e-commerce, most EU countries were experiencing their strictest lockdown measures. According to Ecommerce Europe’s new survey1 released today, it seems that the European economies are slowly trying to get out of the crisis, with 95% of respondents indicating that their countries have started an exit strategy. Most countries are slowly easing the lockdown measures and allowing more “physical” commercial activities, with different types of shops being opened. In the next weeks, although mostly still with restrictions and in a scattered way across Europe, restaurants and bars will be opened, contact-based professions will restart their activities and schools will welcome children again.
“The e-commerce sector has been a reliable factor throughout the crisis of the last months. It has been helping people in countries with even the strictest lockdown measures to get access to goods. In the coming period, it can be expected that consumers will start to buy more from brick-and-mortar stores again, thereby also lifting some of the pressure on the e-commerce sector. The figures demonstrate that, while in March only in 27% of the cases brick-and-mortar shops were allowed to be open, currently 67% of the respondents indicate that physical shops have (re)opened”, declared Marlene ten Ham, Secretary General of Ecommerce Europe.
Despite the strong demand in e-commerce these lasts months, the survey shows a nuanced image of the impact of COVID-19 on the industry. While many sectors have generally seen increased sales, there is also a significant segment that is already experiencing / expecting a decrease in sales, with some sectors even dealing with a complete lack of sales. For instance, the fashion industry has seen a substantial decrease of sales, and the demand in the travel and events industry has dropped to an all-time low. Furthermore, even for the sectors that have seen an extraordinary level of demand, the increased sales have also led to higher costs due to disruptions in supplies, the need for additional staff and increased safety measures. In comparison to March, the new survey shows that the e-commerce sector has also made a slight recovery in the last months, as fewer respondents are currently expecting a decrease of sales (73% to 39%).
A consequence of the worldwide spread of the Coronavirus is that companies are experiencing difficulties in their supply chain. In March, 60% of respondents were identifying a supply chain problem and most others were expecting it to happen soon. The figures of May show that indeed more countries are currently experiencing supply chain issues (78%). While in March businesses may have been able to operate based on reserves, currently businesses are experiencing shortages of certain products. These shortages are mostly due to closed or limited production of products, longer delivery times and the disproportionate demand of some products. Across Europe, the pressure on postal and parcel delivery operators has decreased since March, as they have started adapting their operations to the increased demand.
Although it has not been an easy period for businesses, a large majority of respondents indicates to be overall satisfied (67%) or have a neutral stance (17%) on how their government has responded to the crisis. In terms of government support measures, the biggest remaining issue appears to be that the support funds, mostly given in the form of loans (89%), but also via subsidies and tax deferrals, are in practice difficult to obtain for companies. For instance, in Germany, companies have to prove their creditworthiness to obtain loans, which can be difficult as in such crises, businesses (and especially SMEs) cannot show any securities to banks. Similarly, in Czechia and Austria, companies also experience problems in getting loans or receiving the funds.
Information sharing and harmonized approaches crucial for successful recovery
Information sharing and coordination between countries remains crucial in these times, as completely diverging approaches may have a negative impact on cross-border sales. Ecommerce Europe hopes that these insights will constitute a useful source of information for EU and national decision-makers to adopt an approach for recovery that is, to the extent possible, harmonized. Pushing forward with EU initiatives such as the Green Deal and the digital agenda, while giving stakeholders enough time to be able to properly contribute to policymaking, becomes an essential part of the recovery.
Download the full survey report here.
1 A total of 18 National E-commerce Association members of Ecommerce Europe replied to this survey, covering 16 countries, due to the fact that there can be more than one association per country. The survey was conducted from 7 May to 12 May 2020.