Retail and wholesale services are key for the EU economy. They account for 11.1% of the EU’s GDP and provide around 33 million jobs (almost 15% of total employment in the EU). Over 6 million companies in the retail sector act as intermediaries between thousands of product suppliers and millions of consumers. E-commerce has increased the potential market for retailers and the scope of products available to consumers. The European Commission aims at ensuring that EU wholesalers, retailers and consumers are part of an integrated retail market.

European retail services present a diverse and complex picture. Hence, there is no an unique and homogeneous solution or approach to the challenges they face. The diversity of the retail sector includes differences in terms of the type of providers (SMEs or larger companies), organization (groups of independent retailers, cooperatives, corporations, etc.), outlet sizes, formats, products lines, the supply chains involved, locations, business models, levels of vertical integration, ownership structures and size of operations.

Currently, retailers face varied challenges depending on their size and sector of activity. The development of e-commerce  is also  putting  pressure on  the  retail sectors to  reinvent  its business models. In addition, a blurring of the borderlines between sectors (the scope of retail services continues to broaden through the constant addition of new products and services, including financial, telecommunications and travel services, utilities, etc.) means that business models are becoming more and more multifaceted. Global phenomena, such as the consequences of the financial crisis for consumers purchasing power, rising commodity prices, demographic  trends,  in  particular  the  aging  of  the  EU  population,  and  the  drive  for sustainability, all challenge existing retail business models and processes44.

The European Retail Action Plan (ERAP) aims at addressing key obstacles to achieving a Single Market in Retail by setting out a strategy to improve the competitiveness of the retail sector and enhance the sector’s economic, environmental and social performance. It was clear that its strategic goals cannot be met simply by top-down measures, but will require the active collaboration and initiative of the retail sector itself. For example, responsibility for the investment in skills will have yet to be shared, and the retail sector must play an important role here, alongside Governments, individuals, and the educational sector.

Eleven concrete Actions are identified in ERAP. All of these are legally relevant, as future legislative  proposals:

  • Through dialogue with stakeholders, the Commission will develop good-practice and guidelines and/or codes of conduct to facilitate consumer access to transparent and reliable information, making it easier to compare prices, quality and the sustainability of good services;
  • The Commission will propose European methodologies for measuring and communicating the overall environmental impact of products and organizations;
  • Member States must remove all remaining instances of non-compliance with unequivocal obligations under the Service Directive45 concerning access to, and exercise of, retail activities, including eliminating economic needs tests within the meaning of Article 14§546 of the Service Directive. The  Commission  will apply  its zero-tolerance policy through infringement procedures, where appropriate;
  • The Commission will launch a performance check in the retail sector to explore how commercial and planning rules and are applied on the ground by competent authorities where a potential service provider wishes to set up a small, medium or large retail outlet; through exchange of best  practices, provide for greater clarity regarding the proper balance between freedom of establishment, spatial/commercial planning, and environmental and social protection;
  • The Commission will adopt a Green Paper detailing the common features of UTP’s47 in the B2B food and non-food supply chain and open a consultation the results of which will be available by late Spring 2013. The results of the consultation will feed into an impact assessment of the different options identified to address the issue at EU level;
  • In the Context of existing EU Platforms, the Commission will support retailers to implement actions to reduce food waste without compromising food safety ( awareness raising, communication, facilitating of redistribution to food banks, etc.) e.g. through the Retail Agreement on Waste48; and work on developing a long-term policy and food waste, including a Communication on Sustainable Food to be adopted in 2013;
  • Through dialogue with stakeholders, the Commission will define best practice to make supply chains more environmentally-friendly and sustainable and minimise the energy consumption on  retails outlets. The Commission will encourage retailers in the context of existing fora to apply these best practices;
  • On that basis, the Commission will design concrete actions focused on boosting retail competitiveness, such as bringing research results to the market faster, integrating the e- commerce and brick-and-mortar environments, new ways of informing consumers about products, the development of innovation-friendly regulations and standards etc.;
  • The Commission will examine the feasibility of setting up a dedicated database containing all EU and domestic food labelling rules and providing a simple way to identify labelling requirements per products;
  • The Commission will take measures to ensure better market integration for card, internet and mobile payments through a) revision of the Payments Services Directive ;b) an enhanced governance model for retail payments servoices;c)a legislative proposal on multi-lateral interchange fees for payment cards49;
  • The Commission will strengthen cooperation with social partners to create conditions that make it  possible to match skills with labour market needs  in  the  retail  sector,  particularly  by identifying and anticipating skills needs through an EU Sectorial Skills Council, and by improving retailers training and reskilling policies.

Currently the European retails services sector present a diverse and complex picture. Hence, there is no “one size fits all” solution or approach to the challenges they face. The diversity of the retail sector includes differences in terms of the type of providers (SMEs or larger companies), organization (groups of independent retailers, cooperatives, corporations) outlet sizes, formats, product lines, the supply chains involved, locations, business models, levels of vertical integration, ownership structures and size of operations.

Consequently the European Commission published in 2015 a Report describing the measures taken by the Commission to implement the 11 concrete actions identified in ERAP. In addition, a High Level Group on Retail Competitiveness was set up to advise on retail policy.

Through dialogue with stakeholders the Commission will develop good practice guidelines and/or codes of conduct to facilitate consumer access to transparent and reliable information, making it easier to compare prices, quality and the sustainability of goods and services.

Further the Commission will propose European methodologies for measuring and communicating the overall environmental impact of products and organizations.

A Recommendation (2013/179/E) on the use of common methods top measure and communicate the life cycle environmental performance of products and organizations.

A Communication COM(2013) 196 on Building the Single Market for Green Products – Facilitating better information on the environmental performance of products and organizations. It contains a set of principles for communicating environmental performance.

Member States must remove all remaining instances of non-compliance with unequivocal obligations under Service Directive concerning access to, and exercise of, retail activities, including eliminating economic needs tests within the meaning of Article 14§5 of Services Directive. The Commission will apply its zero-tolerance policy through infringement procedures, where appropriate.

The Commission will carry out a performance check in the retail sector to explore how commercial and spacial planning rules and plans are applied on the ground by the competent authorities where a potential service provider wishes to set up a small, medium or large retail outlet.

The Commission will adopt a Green Paper50 detailing the common features of UTPs in the B2B food and non-food supply chain and open a consultation the result of which was be available by late spring 2013.

In the context of existing EU Platforms, the Commission will support retailers to implement actions to reduce food waste without compromising food safety (awareness raising, communication, facilitating of redistribution to food banks, etc.) e.g., through the Retail Agreement on Waste; and work on developing a long-term policy on food waste, including a Communication on Sustainable Food adopted in 2013.

Through dialogue with Stakeholders, the Commission will define best practices to make supply chains more environmentally-friendly and sustainable and minimise the energy consumption of retail outlets. The Commission will encourage retailers in the context of existing fora to apply these best practices.

The Commission also launched a retail innovation initiatives in 2013 whereby the Commission, with the help of a high-level experts, will explore how to ensure that the retail sector can contribute to, and benefit from, innovative products, services and technologies.

The Expert Group on Retail Sector Innovation, in its final report of 2014 has made concrete recommendation targeted at:

  • Building awareness of the potential of retail innovation for competitiveness, and of opportunities to boost retail innovation and to stimulate cooperation among stakeholders;
  • Ensuring greater participation by retail firms of all sizes in European innovation projects;
  • Identifying and stimulating investment in retail skills that increase potential for retail sector innovation;
  • Ensuring that regulation work as a driver for retail sector innovation.

The Commission will examine the feasibility of setting up a dedicated database containing all EU and domestic food labelling rules and providing a simple way to identify labelling requirements per product.

During the last two years  the Commission has taken measures to ensure better  market integration for  card,  internet  and mobile payments through : a revision of the Payment Services Directive was adopted in 2015.51

Finally, the Commission will strengthen cooperation with social partners to create conditions that make it possible to match skills with labour market needs in the retail sector, particularly by identifying and anticipating skills needs through an EU Sectorial Skills Council, and by improving retailers training and reskilling policies.