We love online shopping. As well as the thrill of being able to shop for anything, anywhere, anytime, now we can receive items at our convenience too: we can choose from named-day deliveries, digital parcel tracking, same-day shipping, parcel lockers and click-and-collect. These convenient ways to shop may be why Black Friday - this year, on November 27th - is being touted as being the biggest-ever in the UK in 2015, with sales forecast to top £1 billion on that day alone. Last year internet sales soared by 92%*1. For many regions across Europe, though, Black Friday is unheard of. Considering the global, borderless world of Ecommerce, this seems strange - surely there's nothing to stop European online shoppers benefitting from some of the online bargains available to their neighbours across the pond?
Actually, despite our globally-connected world, there are still times when our online shopping experiences hit the buffers. If you only ever shop online with companies based in your country, you might not have noticed it. But For many of us, the ability to shop internationally has a huge appeal, extending our choice and giving us access to different brands, broader product ranges and often better prices.
As we look beyond our own regions for products, you begin to notice it: why do products cost different amounts in different regions? Why is an item you ordered on an online marketplace dispatched immediately but not delivered for weeks? Why can't businesses deliver certain products to you when you're willing to pay for them, and they're clearly willing to sell them to other geographies?
These international restrictions are the digital equivalent of a shop door slamming in our faces, a 'Closed' sign in front of us. They limit our choice as consumers in a world we expect to be without borders. They may well be partly why Black Friday hasn't taken off in the majority of European countries. But in 2016, though, things may begin to change, and Black Friday may start to become a global phenomenon.
Here's why: in 2016, the European Commission aims to create a Digital Single Market. This will:
- provide better access for consumers and businesses to digital goods across Europe
- create the right conditions for digital networks and services to flourish
- maximise the growth potential of the digital economy*2
This means there will be rules in place across Europe to make Ecommerce easier, for consumers and businesses, like bringing in consistency with contracts and consumers' rights when you buy online. So if anything goes wrong with your goods, regardless of where you or the business is located, you have the same consumer rights. Consumers, says the Commission, "are set to benefit from a wider range of rights and offers, while businesses will more easily sell to other EU countries. This will boost confidence to shop and sell across borders".
There are other changes too. Ever found you can't buy an item due to where your credit card is registered, or you can't use streaming services such as iPlayer when you're travelling outside the UK? This is called geo-blocking, the restriction of access to websites, dependent on your geographical location. Your IP address reveals your location, and restrictions will apply.The Digital Single Market will aim to end 'unjustified geo-blocking'. There are, however, certain times when geo-blocking justifiably occurs, perhaps when blocking access to products such as tobacco in certain regions for example, so the Commission is likely to listen to retailers to make sure that any justified limitations can continue where this makes sense.
We should also see some improvements when it comes to knowing and understanding what we're going to pay in shipping costs, too: the Digital Single Market also plans to improve the quality and affordability of cross-border parcel delivery. In some countries, it can be much more expensive to receive a parcel from overseas than a domestic parcel, usually down to laws, regulations, taxes and duties. Research has found that the thought of high shipping costs really puts us off shopping outside our own country. In fact, high shipping costs (64 percent), additional fees owed at time of delivery (48 percent) and product delivery taking too long (39 percent)*3 are some of the biggest barriers to global online shopping.
2016 is when some of the legislation related to the Digital Single Market will be published in draft. The EU consumer rights directive, including the right to upfront transparency on shipping costs and other rights, is already law. So we should soon begin to see some changes when we're shopping online.
The Digital Single Market should help to break down trade barriers, remove frustrations and provide a fair and open digital market across Europe. It should boost the digital economy and foster a thriving Ecommerce landscape, through a consistent European-wide approach. It should enable consumers and businesses to flourish in today's digital economy. Ultimately, it should make online shopping that bit easier, and make Black Friday's offers open to all. New Smartphone anyone?
*2 From Jasmin Battista, European Commission at Post Expo, Paris, October 2015
*3 Figures from Pitney Bowes' Online Shipping Survey 2015Suggest a correction