Author: Steve Ferguson, Managing Director, Spring UK
Reflecting on more than a decade of eCommerce, it’s possible to deduce that one of the key elements in its relatively short history is that of surprise.
It took several years and increasing consumer demand before the retail industry abandoned any lingering reservations about the potential benefits of selling goods via the Internet.
In the same way, the rising tide of parcels bound directly for consumers took some delivery firms unawares and has caused them and their competitors to reinvent the speed, methods and technology associated with their services.
The sums generated by eCommerce also continue to astound, with some €455.3 billion spent across the EU in 2015 alone, according to one comprehensive study.
Even though we now fully appreciate the importance of eCommerce for sales, the trade’s capacity to surprise has not completely disappeared.
It is of special significance as the astonishing rate of growth associated with the world’s principal established eCommerce markets starts to slow and retailers look for new and emerging markets in which to make their mark.
The European Union’s leadership is committed to removing the barriers preventing the flow of cross border shipments, so its perhaps only natural that retailers based in one or more of its member states consider the opportunities across the continent.
With more than 28 million citizens between them, Belgium and the Netherlands are among the fastest-growing eCommerce markets when it comes to cross-border purchases.
One piece of research detailed how the volume of cross-border purchases made by Belgian consumers had grown 35 per cent year-on-year, while the increase of goods bought by their counterparts in the Netherlands from suppliers in other countries was up by more than one-fifth over the same period. Interestingly, top of the European table for cross-border shopping was Luxembourg, which had witnessed an increase of 68 per cent.
To put that in context, those values put Europe’s dominant eCommerce markets – the UK, France, Germany and Russia - in the shade.
So great, in fact, has been the development of eCommerce in Belgium and the Netherlands that they have rocketed up the rankings for attractiveness to retailers (Belgium climbed faster than any other European state - 15 places in all - in 2015 with the Netherlands close behind).
Together, shoppers in both countries now boast a combined annual online spend of €24.25 billion (€8.24 billion in Belgium and €16.07 billion in the Netherlands) with reliable forecasts suggesting that their respective totals may well increase by up 30 per cent and 42 per cent in the next three years alone.
Faced with such an appetite, it’s no surprise that ‘Destination Benelux’ has become a strategy for more and more retailers. In doing so, they are proving keen to follow one route to growth which has delivered success in other territories by partnering with local specialists.
That the Netherlands and Belgium placed second and third respectively in a Europe-wide ranking for delivery provision provides reassurance.
They are services built heavily on the national credentials of PostNL, the national provider of postal and parcel services in the Netherlands, and the cross-border capabilities of Spring Global Delivery Solutions (Spring).
For those unfamiliar with Spring, we are specialists in providing access to local delivery networks for cross-border mail, packet and parcel delivery.
Originally established as a joint-venture by PostNL, Singapore Post and Royal Mail in 2001, we became a wholly-owned part of PostNL four years ago. As such, we are the exclusive sales agent for PostNL outside the Benelux countries. It means that we can provide direct and unparalleled access to the local mail and parcel distribution network at competitive prices and with in-depth market knowledge.
Ours is a truly global business with 13 offices, more than 600 staff covering 190 countries and a turnover (a predicted €830 million for this year) which reflects that span of operations.
Like almost every other delivery firm, Spring has, in recent years, been striving to adapt and improve its business model - one which has traditionally been based on processing large mail volumes – to deal with an ever-increasing proportion of parcel and packet traffic generated by eCommerce. It is a challenge which we have embraced.
Across the globe, eCommerce will account for more than half of all our revenues during the current financial year.
Spring’s strategic goal is to continue to improve systems and services, particularly in our cross-border activities in order to deliver sales exceeding €1 billion by 2020. It is, if you like, using our 20/20 vision to achieve a corporate 2020 vision.
Our UK office, which is based in Southall, Middlesex, has been instrumental in working with new and established organisations, both SMEs and far larger enterprises, to help them tap into the rewards of the Benelux market.
Partners number large public sector bodies, leading eCommerce fashion, major electronics companies and wholesale businesses which have helped produce the kind of double-digit growth in the traffic dealt with by Spring which is likely to be sustained for some years to come.
By choosing to maintain and develop a presence in traditional mail which still contributes more than €400 million each year, we reinforce a structure which underpins our competitive advantage in lower weight packets (that is, those items weighing less than one kilogram) which have constituted such a high volume of purchases since the earliest days of eCommerce.
Neither Belgium nor the Netherlands have realised their potential. However, with each week that passes, the surge in cross-border shopping generated by their consumers is persuading foreign retailers how both countries look certain to have a far bigger part to play in determining the future of European eCommerce.
For more information on the Benelux eCommerce Market, download the FREE Benelux Country Guide.