European eCommerce Gets A Collective Voice. Can It Grow Teeth?

I've written about the European Union's grand plans for eCommerce in the past. Much of what the European Commission wants to achieve is laudable and would be fantastic to see. After all, who amongst us doesn't want to see eCommerce thrive? However, recent initiatives such as the much debated "Cookie Law" suggests that the good intent is often diluted by the time directives become in-country legislation. So there is a very real risk that further plans to tinker with national laws regarding things like tax, delivery charges, and returns could wind up making the world more, not less complex.

Each country in Europe has an eCommerce industry body. The IMRG in the UK, Fevad in France, BVH in Germany. The list goes on. But the challenge with these bodies is that they are all country-specific, and as such don't really think too deeply about cross-border issues and also lack the power to effectively lobby the EC when it comes to influencing legislation.

One of the things that Europe really needs to help drive a more effective cross-border e-economy is an effective cross-border "user group." A group that can operate in the way that shop.org does in the US.

We have EMOTA, which is essentially an umbrella organization for the various industry groups, but feels a little detached from the actual retailers.

So it's an interesting development to see the launch of Ecommerce Europe, a body that aims to represent the "companies selling products and/or services online to consumers in Europe." I had the pleasure of listening to Marc Lolivier, Director General of Fevad, speak on the subject this week at the Global Ecommerce Summit in Barcelona. He made a passionate case to encourage organizations to join up.

  • The positives: It has the backing of a number of national bodies and it has a positive ambition. A couple of big names in retail — Pixmania and Vent Privee — are already members.
  • The maybe not-as -positives: It's a small start, with only 15 members at this stage, and it's lacking the backing of the European heavyweights of the IMRG and BVH at this stage.

So it remains to be seen whether this new association will stand the test of time, add value to its members and most critically wield any influence with the policy makers. Europe desperately needs some eCommerce influencers whose voices are heard and acted on by the EC, otherwise we will continue to see poorly thought through policy decisions enforced by well-meaning but ill-informed bureaucrats. And one of the most insightful remarks that Marc Lolivier made in his speech was that eCommerce is moving too fast for legislation anyway. Self-regulation based on best practices and transparency is called for. A point which I wholeheartedly agree with.

My hope is that Ecommerce Europe can build a pan-European body that has that influence. In the short term, it has its work cut out building the right relationships with EC policy makers, but also delivering sufficient value to its members to keep them interested.