The British Retail Consortium (BRC) is urging the Government to push for the EU to remove the barriers hindering online trade between European countries.
In a document detailing principles the Government should consider in its March 2015 budget, the BRC has asked it to make steps in consolidating cross-border consumer rights, as well as implementing a test to ensure all rules make sense in an online world.
The BRC wants to make exporting to Europe more attractive and feasible. “This is a top priority for the European Commission and its ability to deliver real progress could be a key indicator for future assessment of EU reform,” reads the submission to the Chancellor of the Exchequer.
It said: “British retailers are at the forefront of the online retail revolution and well-placed to exploit new market opportunities presented by the digital single market.”
The document stated that the UK is the world’s third largest online market and the largest in Europe, with significant connections with every European country when it comes to ecommerce.
Despite the UK being the third larges online market, its online retail sales to France in 2013 were worth $72m (£47m), compared with $250m (£164m) of French online retail sales to the UK.
Strategy consultants OC&C said UK cross-border internet sales will reach £28bn by 2020.
Cross-border consumer rights
But despite the potential for sales, the BRC said the fragmentation of consumer rights in the EU makes it unattractive for retailers to offer their goods and services across borders. The BRC claims the fragmentation has led to one unnamed well-established BRC member to withdraw from trading abroad.
The BRC said: “The ideal outcome is a new fully harmonised Consumer Rights Directive at a practical proportionate level, covering sale of goods law (guarantees), digital content and cloud computing and possibly unfair contract terms.”
But the organisation said at a practical level the UK and other EU member states have already opposed full harmonisation of consumer guarantees, so it suggested implementing a “mini-Common European Sales Law” that would deal only with guarantees, digital content and perhaps unfair contract terms.
The BRC said that rules that make sense for physical retailers, do not always translate to online retailing. The BRC has suggested the European Commission should implement an “ecommerce test” for new rules it intends to put forward.
“A requirement for an ecommerce test might be incorporated as a standard feature of the UK and Commission’s impact assessment process or form part of the competitiveness test that has been advocated by the EU Business Task Force,” it said.
Payments and card fees
In addition, the submission said the UK should follow the lead of other member states to ensure absolute priority is given to the introduction of domestic interchange card fee caps. “Alongside the 0.2% cap there should also be a fixed pence per transaction,” it said.
“Savings from a reduction in interchange fees creates capital for range of investments such as new store designs; improving customer service propositions; extending the range of products available; investing in technology to improve the customer shopping experience; opening new stores; and crucially, enabling small businesses to compete more effectively.”
The document also noted how the Government should continue with its intentions to review the structure of business rates, as well as the long-term plan to revitalise high streets.