back to article EC consults on low take-up of e-commerce

The European Commission has asked retailers, governments, telecoms companies and the public to help it to understand why e-commerce has had such a limited effect on trade in Europe. The Commission has launched a consultation process aimed at understanding why, 10 years after the E-Commerce Directive was passed, e-commerce …


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  1. Britt Johnston

    One commissions target is the next ones disaster

    I would argue that the EU pushing of parallel imports has been a major cause of increased trade in fraudulent medicines. And the internet can increase this to viagra-type levels.

    Call me a troll, I feel bad about this type of "progress".

  2. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward


    While i was doing some work in Brussels last summer the Belgian Post office proudly announced that they were only now losing 25% of all mail.

    There are also about zero guaranteed cross border mail options.

  3. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward


    Speaking as someone who spends a lot of time in Italy good luck with dragging the Italians into the 21st century. My experience centres mainly with (trying) to buy IT equipment, many Italian companies require you to log in or create a customer account before you can even SEE what it is they are selling, let alone make price comparisons. My suspicion is that they tailor the price to your profile. Inflated prices coupled with refusal to accept foriegn credit cards, useless delivery couriers, and non existent customer service means that mostly the best way to do it is buy cheaply in the UK and import it yourself. (I'm sure this doesn't apply to ALL italian companies) but it seemingly does to most. Also this criticism is not just limited to the IT sector as I've experienced these problems with most businesses here.

  4. Steve X

    The EC really does live on another planet

    There are so many reasons why cross-border commerce is never going to be a big deal, at least at retail level. For one thing most shops across Europe sell the same things for the same prices, you rarely get a better range of options or a better price by shopping in the French or German online versions of Argos, or Currys, or Tesco. Those companies which do understand EU-wide demand just open physical shops across the EU. There are branches of Decathlon (French) in the UK, Tesco (British) everywhere, etc.

    It is also limited, in my experience, by shipping costs and VAT confusion. Why pay £20 shipping to get something from Germany if I can buy almost the same thing locally?

    As for downloadable things like music, the rights issues mean that it's well-nigh impossible to buy from another country. Ever tried to use from France, or from the UK? They just don't want to know unless your credit card has a billing address in the country of "delivery".

    This is just another example of the EC assuming that if it's EU-wide it must be better. They really are completely out of touch with reality, and have no clue about how ordinary people spend their lives, or their cash.

    If they *really* want to do something usefully EU-wide, what about sorting out pension schemes so that pensions can be transported between companies across borders, or fixing media management rules so that an expat can sign up for his/her home satellite TV or radio? Or maybe they could just all resign and let us get on with our lives without paying even more taxes to subsidise their irrelevant, self-satisfied, heads-up-their-own-arses activites.

    1. Sergie Kaponitovicz

      What's more is that we pay these unelected pricks.

      "Nuf said.

      1. Ted Treen
        Thumb Down

        Yeah, but

        not willingly. And definitely begrudgingly

    2. Britt Johnston

      doing something useful

      They really do want to help. That is why they are pushing to collect European Tax, as a more solid basis to justify doing something.

    3. jonathanb Silver badge

      iTunes is cross border

      If you buy from iTunes UK, you are buying from a Luxembourg company. Probably something to do with the fact that the VAT rate is 15% in Luxembourg and 17.5% here.

      Similarly if you buy CDs from Amazon, Tesco, WH Smith etc, you are buying from a Jersey company, which is probably related to the fact that the VAT rate there is 3%.

    4. webbo

      same pricing across europe/ i-tunes etc

      Items are NOT the same price across Europe but they should be. Of course shipping needs to be taken into account and then there is availability in some countries but not in others. The rights issues in the music industry are not the issue. If I am anywhere outside of the UK and buy a physical CD from a retailer who will supply (i.e. not Amazon) then the rights are accounted in the UK. I can't buy a digital album the same way - why not? There are 7 countries in the EU where it is nigh on impossible to buy a legal download. If I can understand English and have a credit card why can't i buy digitally from i-Tunes UK? All that happens is that people are driven to piracy

  5. Andrew the Invertebrate

    Is 2% really that bad?

    How much of a saving do you really get if you buy widget x from the far side of the EU and have to wait 3 weeks for it to arrive, when you can just nip down to local shop and have it in your hand in 10 minutes?

    Also promoting e-Retailing, doesn't really help promote greener trading and whatever the equivelent of food miles would be for this stuff. Made in Spain, bought from a Polish retailer and then reshipped from Poland to the UK.

  6. Phil Miesle

    the inevitable consultant will conclude: shipping costs

    Undoubtedly millions will be spent on consultants to study practices are also a barrier. For example, try shipping something from the UK to Ireland...or even Northern Ireland. "Will ship to Mainland UK only".

  7. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    I suppose I'm unusual then

    I've bought stuff from European online retailers in the past, and still do.

    I saved a small fortune on quality bathroom fittings (because the Germans know how to do engineering and what they consider ordinary fittings are imported to the UK and sold as luxury lifestyle accessories at absurd prices).

    I've also bought musical instruments from Europe, because they were cheaper.

    I remember in the mid 90s chatting to some European friends who had ended up buying IT stuff from Gateway in Ireland because it was cheaper.

    I regularly buy CDs from independent labels and bands on the Continent, mostly in Scandinavia.

    I would imagine the problems are largely down to all the obvious stuff: language barriers, market sizes, regulatory uncertainties, taxes, and shipping costs.

    The UK is a big market, so retailers set up to serve the UK will benefit from economies of scale. The same isn't true of, say, Portugal, and the cost of legal and translation work that would be needed for a Portuguese to serve the German or English markets probably means only bigger retailers would bother. VAT is not uniform across the EU, so a Danish company

    VAT is generally quite a lot higher on the continent, so a Danish company (25%) might find it hard to compete on price in the UK, or would have to ask the user for their country of origin before displaying the price or somesuch.

  8. Pete 2 Silver badge

    2 major hurdles

    The uptake of credit cards in a lot of (esp. southern) eurpoean countries is, well, less that we're used to in Britain. That kinda limits the number of prospective customers, although this will become less of a problem over time.Add on to that the lack of couriers in a lot of countries (usually the ones with less than perfect postal services, too) and you've got a bigger problem with order fulfillment.

    Obviously there's a virtuous circle here. The more e-commerce there is, the better the delivery prospects, which will increase the amount of online trade. It took a while to take off in Britain (and it's still stupidly hard to get a delivery when a worker is actually at home to receive it: after 6pm or at weekends), but we'll all get there eventually.

    Maybe then Amazon will have outlets in more than just France, Britain and Germany.

  9. Caff

    ROI UK

    I think a big part is language and insecurity about each countries laws. I know here in Ireland people tend to buy a lot of stuff online from the UK when the VAT and currency levels make it worthwhile or if you can't find it in Ireland. Its pretty easy to do and there is no language barrier or hassle returning goods if there is a problem.

    1. David Evans
      Thumb Down

      Double edged sword

      While Ireland has the advantage of UK e-commerce right next door, this also means that many UK retailers don't treat the Irish online market seriously; no euro pricing, no support for local cards (Laser), and of course they usually can't handle Irish addresses (although this is more due to Ireland's willful refusal to join the 21st century and introduce proper postcodes). Amazingly there are a number of UK retailers that have .ie web sites that aren't transactional!

      More annoying is that despite the so-called free movement of goods and services, some online retailers won't deliver some of their products "overseas" (try ordering any Logitech product from Amazon for example), and its here that pan-EU e-commerce falls down; the routine segregation of markets by manufacturers, that supposed to be against EU rules.

    2. FreeTard

      yet some retailers refuse to ship...

      I "won" a few things on ebay, and they refused to ship to ireland yet I had already paid the cash to their account. They re-imbursed me of course, but I coldn't understand their reasonning - especially when it was a buy it now price.


  10. Dazed and Confused Silver badge

    In my experience the EU is against e-commerce

    A couple of Christmases ago, when you couldn't buy a Wii for love nor money in the UK and mainland Europe had them coming out of their ears I tried to order a Wii from Amazon's sites in both the France and Germany. As soon as I put in a UK address they told me they couldn't sell me this item. I tried loads of other sites too, with the same result, till a German colleague found me a smaller, more independent minded company who were more than happy to be paid to sell things (which is what I always thought was what shops were therefore).

    I tried complaining to the European Commission that is was a flagrant breach of the open market and violated my consumer rights. They eventually replied and said they weren't interested.

    1. Steve X

      Their own fault

      This one is a case of the EU shooting itself in the foot.

      A while back the EC made it a legal requirement that, for safety reasons, all mains-powered electrical equipment had to be sold with a suitable plug already fitted. Of course a French or German supplier won't stock equipment fitted with UK 13A plugs, so they won't ship to the UK in case they're done for breaking EU safety regulations, even if the eventual purchaser is more than capable of fitting a suitable plug or changing the power lead.

  11. Anonymous Coward


    "The Commission has launched a consultation process aimed at understanding why, 10 years after the E-Commerce Directive was passed, e-commerce retail represents only a tiny fraction of Europe's retail business."

    So how about doing something about the unrealistically high import taxes? Should I have the balls to order outside Europe to the Netherlands, I get a bill for +70% of the total order value (that includes shipping), to be paid directly to the tax office.

    Should I still be left with a working testicle after that and decide to order from somewhere inside Europe; the remaining appendage will get pancaked by hefty transport costs and mail thieves.

    Then there's the massive price differences between vendors, shipping and sales bans here and there, and a touch of ayment restrictions to put you out of your miserable shopping habit.

    And you wonder WHY? ye gods.

    /end rant

  12. Al fazed


    That must be mainly made up of: cannabis seeds, grow lights, plant nutirients and related hydroponics cannabis growing kits, oh yeah and a wide range legal highs, from Holland !

    From my own, albeit limited experiences of business, most small business owners that I have known won't even spend money on decent office lighting. They will put up with a really crap eMail service, etc; as they lack the capacity to even imagine how they could improve their business through the use of IT especially through selling/buying anything (other than "instant playmates or holidays") via the net.

    As for taking some free advice from Go vermin web sites, at free training workshops, via electronic newsletters, or even from their pet IT bod, you must be havin' a laugh mate ! In the main they scream at you, generally labouring their belief that they don't have the time.

    Not only is their capacity to understand IT severely limited, as you'd expect, the consequence being that most of their time is spent fighting fires without the aid of IT, as they try to cope with everything from none paying customers who live just down the road to their business environment which is made up of a constantly changing landscape of regulations, limitations and liabilities, etc.

    For me, this proves yet again how out of touch and separated from reality our over bears are.


  13. Mickey Finn


    Surely there is no need for a consultation!

    The solution is as plain as the n on your f...

    More government!

  14. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    DUH! Overregulation, you morons!

    No need to appoint an idiotic blue-ribbon commission to study the problem. IT'S OVERREGULATION!!!! Take one look at the stupid privacy hoops a business must jump through to sell anything on the Internet in the EU, and it's quite obvious why nobody wants to go to that trouble.

    Read the book "ATLAS SHRUGGED" and you will discover why the economy is tanking all over. WAKE UP IDIOTS! The more difficult you make the business environment, the less people will be willing to put up with that crap. Instead they will all just take early retirement and let the immigrants do all the work.

  15. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Not VAT

    VAT rules are pretty straightforward. If the seller has a trading presence in the purchaser's country, VAT must be charged at the purchaser's rate, otherwise it is charged at the seller's rate. e.g. if someone in France buys a book from they will be charged French VAT (5.5%) and not UK VAT (0%) because Amazon has a French subsidiary. If that purchaser were to buy from Maplin electronics, which doesn't have a French arm, they'd pay UK VAT (17.5%) and not French (19.6%).

    Either way the seller sees none of it, it is simply passed on to the tax people, so it won't have a business effect on them. Makes more difference where the Channel Islands are involved, since for many purposes they are not in the EU, but only in the EEA.

  16. MarkieMark1


    seem to need to make their comments directly to the EU

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