Looking for a big ecommerce market where Amazon is not as dominant as it is in the U.S.? Europe fits the bill. But European consumers have very different preferences when it comes to delivery, and there are other important fulfillment issues to keep in mind when expanding into Europe via ecommerce.

Bruce Fair, chief revenue officer, MetaPack

Bruce Fair, chief revenue officer, MetaPack

The European market presents a wealth of opportunity for U.S. retailers and brands to grow their businesses and revenues.  The region provides access to over 500 million consumers, and the ecommerce market is worth more than $602 billion.

A real differentiator between the U.S. and Europe is that Amazon isn’t as successful in Europe as it is domestically.  Given this, retailers and brands have a great opportunity to effectively compete and win European consumers’ ecommerce business.  To be successful, they need to provide unique and differentiated experiences that meet consumers’ needs.  One way to do that is through the delivery services offered.

To succeed in this area requires a clear understanding of the market, including online retail trends and customer preferences; typical fulfillment options; the carrier landscape and statutory concerns.  Let’s explore these further:

European consumers expect to have fast and flexible delivery, which is personalized to suit their lifestyle.

Market Overview and Consumer Desires

By 2022, online retail sales will grow at more than six times the rate of in-store sales and will expand to $5.8tn globally.  In the European market, ecommerce accounts for 9% of retail sales, and Western Europe accounts for approximately 68% of total European online retail turnover.  It’s most popular in the UK, where it accounts for 18% of retail sales.

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As mentioned, a major difference to the U.S. market is that Amazon’s share of the market is significantly less in Europe, with Amazon the seventh largest retailer in Europe with 39% of market share.  Amazon is the third largest retailer based on sales in the U.S. with upwards of 50% of online market share.  This provides retailers and brands with significant opportunity if they can meet consumers’ desires.

One of those desires is a positive delivery experience.  According to findings highlighted in MetaPack’s 2018 State of eCommerce Delivery Consumer Research Report, 61% of respondents said a positive delivery experience incentivizes them to shop with the same e-retailer again.  Findings also showed that European consumers expect to have fast and flexible delivery, which is personalized to suit their lifestyle.  Consumers also want to have free delivery (49% of consumers no longer expect to pay for delivery), but they will opt to pay more for faster or specialized options.

A major delivery difference between Europe and the U.S. is the preference for Pick Up Drop Off (PUDO) and Click & Collect options.  Delivery to a pick-up point or local shop holds a strong appeal for European shoppers who often use this service—particularly in France (58%), Spain (50%) and the Netherlands (46%), according to MetaPack’s research findings.  In Scandinavia PUDO is used extensively and is considered the number one delivery preference.

Similarly, when it comes to returning items, 37% of Europeans drop off goods at a PUDO point, much higher than 28% of U.S. consumers.  Retailers and brands should consider different delivery preferences in their returns strategy.

Fulfillment Choices

To compete in Europe, it’s necessary for U.S. retailers and brands to weigh fulfillment options against customer experience.  This includes considering the maturity of the cross-border offering, including delivery speed, delivery cost and fulfillment cost against customer experience.  In basic terms, as stock is stored closer to the customer it is delivered faster and at a lower cost. But having multiple fulfillment centers, instead

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of one, increases costs. As volume and customers grow, retailers should progress through the fulfillment models to make sure they can offer the delivery options and speed desired by the local market.

When building a supply chain strategy in Europe, there are four stages for the typical evolution of fulfillment for retailers and brands.  These include:  1. Ship from the U.S., 2. Single Third-Party Logistics in Europe, 3. Multiple Third-Party Logistics in Europe, and 4. Own Warehouse in Europe.  Merchants will have to identify which stage they are currently and the appropriateness of remaining in that stage or advancing to the next based on the volume of goods and customer expectations.

Carrier Environment

For the most success in Europe, U.S. retailers and brands need to bear in mind the carrier landscape and use carriers that meet local delivery preferences.  The number and complexity of carriers in Europe represents the biggest difference to the U.S. market.  There is a large variety of carriers in in the region, unlike the four in the U.S.

The carriers can be categorized as the following:  large integrators, country postal operators, commercial carriers and niche or specialist carriers.  Large integrators, such as FedEx and UPS, serve the cross-border market but can be more costly.  Commercial carriers are often offshoots of the larger postal operators, such as GLS, part of Royal Mail Group.  Niche carriers provide custom logistics services—for example, Addison Lee in the UK provides a same-day courier service.

According to MetaPack research, two-thirds of European retailers use between two and ten carriers. Half have about five carriers for domestic and international needs.

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Main Statutory Concerns

Another area for U.S. retailers and brands to consider is statutory information.  All goods imported from non-European countries must be classified and declared to Customs to assess whether duties and VAT are due or whether the goods are prohibited, restricted or require an import license.  Most businesses will use a courier or freight forwarder to do this for them.  Duty and VAT will need to be paid before goods are cleared from Customs.

Classifying commodities can be challenging and expensive—especially if the business has an extensive or high turnover in commodities.  Failure to correctly assess the commodity code or assign the correct value to goods can lead to fines, sanctions and delays in delivery of customers’ orders.  U.S. retailers and brands will need to ensure they are complying with customs regulations and aware of the additional time and cost in doing so.

In Conclusion

Moving into Europe is challenging—but achievable and potentially very lucrative when approached and prepared for correctly.  Local preferences and desires need to be appropriately addressed, including when it comes to delivery.  Those who can offer a superior delivery experience will be able to drive sales, build customer loyalty and increase revenues.

MetaPack provides delivery management software.

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