The internet has revolutionised the way we shop. With one click you can find an unimaginable choice of items, compare prices to get the best deal and organise for that 'must have' item via next day delivery. Yet how willing would you be to purchase from a website from outside the UK subject to different regulations, uncertainty as to reliability and even potential language barriers.
This is an issue which is being addressed by the EU Consumer Commissioner's report "Barriers to E-Commerce" published this month. The Commission have analysed patterns of online commerce in both a domestic and an EU setting and have found that there are barriers which are inhibiting the growth of cross-border e-commerce. Statistics show that in the EU as a whole, the percentage of people buying at least one item over the internet increased from 27% to 33% between 2006 and 2008, representing a steady increase. In terms of total online sales, cross-border e-commerce is only at a level of 7%, showing an increase of only 1% since 2006. This is an important issue for the Commission as freedom of movement of goods is one of the key, founding principles of the EU.
These barriers include both technical barriers and perceived barriers. Differing tax regimes, consumer law, language barriers and selective distribution from retailers all represent technical reasons why the growth in cross-border e-commerce is being constrained. However, the Commissioner has found that there are perceived barriers, for example assumptions that processing complaints, returns, payment security and delivery are more difficult in cross-border transactions.
This report is only part of a wider EU consultation on barriers to e-commerce and will be followed up in autumn of this year with the Commissioner's final report.