You'll find in this section and below a library of resources (mostly) produced by EuroCommerce by type and in chronological order. If you are looking for resources related to a certain subject, issue or policy area, browse our policy areas section.
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Investing in people for the future of retail15 Apr 2021
Speaking at the Commission Roundtable on Skills for the Retail Ecosystem with Commissioners Thierry Breton and Nicolas Schmit today, EuroCommerce Director-General Christian Verschueren said:
“Retail is a people business, serving people. Everyone working in retail has worked hard in ensuring that consumers have a reliable supply of daily essentials during the Covid-19 crisis. Many non-food retailers have suffered badly under repeated and extended lockdowns in many countries. The pandemic has massively accelerated the trend towards digitalisation and online sales. EU and national authorities now need help our companies, especially SMEs, equip their employees with the skills needed to master these digital systems in the workplace.”
Together with EuroCommerce’s Director-General (as the recognised social partner for the retail sector), senior executives from 8 retail companies presented how their companies are investing in up- and reskilling of their employees amid a rapidly changing world of work and the digital transformation in retail. Retail provides stable and fulfilling jobs for 18 million people – and another 10 million in wholesale distribution. It has a strong track record in building up the skills they need to succeed in the workplace. Informal work-based learning ensures retail employees meet the ever-changing demands of their local customers.
EU and national government support is needed to invest in the resilience of retail after the pandemic, and its ability to embrace fully the digital and sustainability transformation. This includes targeted help to SMEs to go online to survive. With the endorsement of our social partner UNI Europa, we have proposed a European Pact for Commerce, calling upon the Commission to help fund this transformation, and also help SMEs up- and reskill their workforce. This is not only about digital: it is about combining ‘high tech and high touch’.The future of physical retail will need employees able to deal with technology, and at the same time provide a top-quality service based on expert advice and customer service.
Retailers look to open a renewed dialogue with the Commission on skills in four key areas:
- Vocational Education and Training: Retail plays a key role as the largest provider of apprenticeships in many EU countries. These are quality job opportunities for young people and include curricula focused on e-commerce operations.
- Upskilling: The overall success of the digital transformation in retail depends on our entire workforce becoming digitally literate. It is important that SMEs in our sector can access expertise existing training programs teaching basic digital skills.
- Reskilling: The retail sector also has persistent skills shortages of its own. For example, it is difficult to find enough qualified butchers and bakers. Reskilling of the long-term unemployed or workers from inside or outside the retail sector is a priority.
- Higher education: Another example of skills shortages are data scientists (e.g. professionals working on AI and blockchain). These technologies are already impacting retail and retailers need European universities to train more ‘home-grown’ data scientists.
Comments on the first social partner consultation on EU action on working conditions in platform work09 Apr 2021
The Commission is considering whether to improve the working conditions of platform workers through a legislative proposal (Directive) by Q4 2021 or a non-legislative approach.
The EuroCommerce position is that a Directive is not necessary to achieve the Commission’s aims, but an interpretative guidance from DG Competition (also foreseen by Q4 2021) is welcome. This should clarify how collective representation of self-employed platform workers can be in line with EU competition law.
On the labour law dimension, it is clear that platform workers should continue to fall into the two distinct categories of labour law as defined by national law and practice: workers or self-employed. Our members are against creating a third category for platform workers, as it would lead to a disproportionately increased legal uncertainty for businesses as the existing delimitations are based amongst others on decades of national case law which therefore is currently very reliable and differentiated.
Instead of legislation at EU level, platforms should be encouraged to engage with platform workers on their working conditions through voluntary initiatives.The Commission’s DG Competition should clarify how this can be done for self-employed platform workers while respecting EU competition law. In addition, better enforcement of EU and national labour law can help avoid misclassification of platform workers.
Consumers want more organic food, retail and wholesale wants to provide it25 Mar 2021
Speaking today on the launch of the Commission 2030 Action Plan for organic production, EuroCommerce Director-General Christian Verschueren said:
“Retail and wholesale have been pioneers in aiding consumers to move to healthy and sustainable diets and lifestyles.The COVID pandemic has made people focus even more on this, but in many parts of the market, demand for organic products outstrips supply, and we are pleased to see the Commission’s ideas to boost organic production under the plan. For our part, we know that the transition to organic costs time and money, and many retailers have given support to farmers making the change.”
Over the last 10 years, consumer sales of organic have grown over 145%, to some €41 billion, although in most markets it still makes up less than 10% of food sales. The COVID pandemic has accelerated this trend: a joint EuroCommerce-McKinsey report shows that, in 2021, 50% of consumers across Europe plan to adapt their grocery spend, especially towards healthy and sustainable foods. Retail and wholesale have been driving this trend for many years and are stepping up their organic offerings further.
A recent Commission report1 points to organic providing farmers with a premium on conventional produce of up to 150%. But it will not be a silver bullet for the serious challenges facing farmers: while some countries have already reached the 25% target in the Farm to Fork Strategy, overall, only around 8.5% of land in the EU is farmed organically. This means that in many market segments, retailers struggle to find producers to meet growing consumer demand.
Reaching the Farm to Fork target will need EU support to farmers and engagement by all parts of the supply chain, including food manufacturers, especially as retailers only buy a small proportion of what they sell direct from farmers. We are pleased to see that the action plan proposes a substantial budget for promoting organic farming, and consumer information on organics, particularly in Member States where demand is below the EU average to encourage demand and develop the market, and hope that the plan will offset the impact of extra costs arising from the controls required by the Organics Regulation.
COVID has had another, polarising, impact on consumer expectations. While wanting healthier, sustainable food, concern about their future situation has made consumers also look for value and low price. The EuroCommerce/McKinsey report shows 37% of surveyed consumers planning to look for ways to save money in grocery shopping in 2021. Verschueren added:
“We want organic produce and sustainable lifestyles to be available to everyone, not just an affluent minority. This means a major increase in volumes of organic food produced in Europe, and by creating scale, can make it affordable for families across Europe. We will continue to do our bit to help in promoting organic, but this will need to be supplemented by substantial public support, and involvement of the whole supply chain, in order to achieve these ambitious but welcome targets”
Director-General Verschueren to stand down in the autumn25 Mar 2021
After ten years at the helm, EuroCommerce Director-General Christian Verschueren has informed the Board that he would be standing down from his post later this year after a successor has been appointed. The EuroCommerce Board will be starting the process of finding a new Director-General.
Christian Verschueren said: “I believe that, together with our members and our great team, we have made the voice for retail and wholesale better heard over the last decade. Ten years is a long time in today’s fast-paced environment, particularly our sector, and renewal is healthy for any organisation. And with EuroCommerce at the cusp of a new era and with a new three-year strategy about to be developed, I thought that it was a good time for me to step down. A new leader will bring new energy and fresh ideas, and write the next chapter for this great organisation. The retail and wholesale sector, not always sufficiently recognised for the service it provides to Europeans, deserves this.”
EuroCommerce President Régis Degelcke added: “Much as I regret his decision to stand down, I respect it. Christian has had a major impact on the cohesion and effectiveness of our organisation, and he has given our sector a stronger political standing in Brussels and Strasbourg. He is leaving EuroCommerce in good shape, and this will facilitate a smooth transition to the new leadership.”
Christian Verschueren has agreed to ensure a smooth transition and stays in his role until a new Director-General is established in his/her position, sometime in the second half of this year.
After COVID-19 shake up, grocery shoppers demand more health, online and value – resulting in ongoing disruptions and uncertainty in grocery retail25 Mar 2021
The Disruption and Uncertainty – State of Grocery Retail 2021 report, launched today by McKinsey & Company and EuroCommerce, takes a comprehensive look at the long term-trends and effects of the pandemic on the European grocery industry.
The report first recaps the industry developments in 2020 – it looks at how the COVID-19 pandemic has reshaped the European grocery landscape at unprecedented speed and scale, with government restrictions impacting shopping patterns and accelerating a dramatic shift to online.
• Revenues were positively impacted by the pandemic – based on Europanel data, during the first lockdown in March 2020, grocery sales in Europe increased on average by 20%, and by 10% during 2020 as a whole
• At the same time, costs increased owing to pressure on supply chains and the growing need for additional hygiene measures
• The stricter lockdowns became, the more consumers changed their shopping patterns, shopped at different supermarkets or ordered their groceries online. In total 60% of consumers changed the store they shop in or went shopping online
Disruption and Uncertainty – State of Grocery Retail 2021, based on both the CEO survey and consumer research, identified four key trends that will shape the industry over the next years. These are based on the areas consumers intend to spend more money on and what CEOs see as the key industry-shaping trends, with the majority expecting an increased focus on adjusting to shoppers who want variety, value and online.
1. Lifestyle agendas drives food demand. Different consumer groups have increasingly different demands that they expect grocers to fulfil. In addition to the demand for organic and local/regional products, consumers are calling for a wider range of “healthy” (e.g. “free from” foods) and/or “sustainable” products.
a. In 2021, across Europe, 50% of customers plan to adapt their grocery spend to better meet their lifestyle agenda: especially towards healthy foods (34%), regional/local (29%) and environmentally-friendly products (23%). These new expectations also go hand-in-hand with a greater demand for value and low prices. 26% of consumers in Europe want both to save money and change their grocery shopping habits to better suit their lifestyle agendas.
2. Value is king (again). During the pandemic, consumers spent considerably more on groceries due to the closure of restaurants and office cafeterias. Therefore, despite the economic crisis in 2020, we did not see downtrading for the full year of 2020. The lockdown limited the ability of the consumers to spend money otherwise and allowed many consumers to spend more on grocery, but according to our customer research, consumers are expected to trade down and save money in 2021 compared to 2020.
a. In Europe, 37% of surveyed consumers plan to look for ways to save money while grocery shopping in 2021 compared to 2020.
b. 76% of grocery retail executives in Europe ranked trading down to cheaper products and an increase in price sensitivity as one of the influential trends for the next 1-2 years.
3. Online set to become core. The pandemic has dramatically accelerated the shift to online and this looks set to continue. As a result, winning market share without winning online becomes increasingly difficult. In mature markets like UK, online already captures more than one third of the overall market growth.
a. In 2020, the online channel in Europe grew by 55% Grocery retailers were forced to adapt at unprecedented speed to not only offer consumers home delivery, but to offer increased variety online, extremely fast access and cheaper options.
b. This shift looks set to continue - 50% of consumers who used online channels throughout the pandemic intent on continuing
4. Restaurants return. Even though eating outwill take some time to return to pre-crisis levels, the report predicts a sharp rebound once restrictions ease, with grocers set to lose a considerable share of their lockdown windfall. While some consumers have indicated they will continue to stick to their (re-)discovered home cooking, the majority will return to ready prepared (and often hot and ready-to-eat) food. This decreasing demand for grocery retail is widely expected by executives in the industry - 49% think that the market situation will worsen in 2021 compared to 2020.
The common theme emerging from all of these future trends is increased margin pressure on grocery retailers over the coming years with the need to cater for broader consumer demands, growing price pressure, growth of a so far mostly loss-marking online business and increasing multi-channel complexity.
Christian Verschueren, Director-General at EuroCommerce:
“We have been delighted to work with McKinsey and Company on this important set of insights, and which we hope will be valuable to all senior players in grocery retail. Our sector, recognised as an essential ecosystem for the European economy, has been hit hard in areas of non-food retail and food wholesale, and while COVID has shifted demand away from closed restaurants and hotels to boost sales in food retail, it has also raised costs for retailers, in disruptions in supply, unprecedented demand and the significant costs in keeping our staff and customers safe. The massive growth in online grocery sales has also meant substantial investment in e-commerce which will take some time to become profitable.”
Tobias Wachinger, Senior Partner at McKinsey:
“What we see, both in consumer demand patterns and in the grocery industry response, is a new level of discontinuity – and we have no reason to believe that things will cool down soon”.
Daniel Läubli, Co-Leader of McKinsey’s European Retail Practice:
“The speed and magnitude of these changes will reshuffle the cards and create new winners and losers. Grocery retailers that take bold moves to address major shifts, such as online or health, have a unique opportunity to win market shares”
The report features key analyses based on consumer research in 10 countries and a survey among 48 retail industry leaders. Articles focus on key trends and are complemented by 6 in-depth interviews with C-level executives from different parts of Europe. This report is the first in a series of reports aimed at shedding light on the state of the grocery retail now and in the years to come.
Taxes on retail turnover a short-sighted attack on innovation and consumers’ purchasing power16 Mar 2021
Noting the judgment of the Court of Justice of the European Union today on the Polish retail and Hungarian advertising taxes (C 562/19 P Commission v Poland and C 596/19 P Commission v Hungary), EuroCommerce Director-General Christian Verschueren commented:
“We do not question the European Court’s judgment, that focused on the methodology used by the Commission to assess whether the tax constituted unlawful state aid. But we do question the judgment of governments imposing turnover taxes with a clear discriminatory impact. The companies particularly affected have invested billions of euros to offer consumers in their countries a wide choice of quality products at competitive prices. Taxes based on the turnover of retail companies with a high turnover, but very low profit margin put at risk these retailers’ ability to continue investing in those countries to innovate and give consumers the service they have come to expect”.
Taxes should be fair, non-discriminatory and ensure fair competition between all market players. Retail is the biggest collector of indirect taxes in the EU, and pays some additional € 70 billion in labour, corporate and other direct taxation. Why we are so concerned at turnover-based taxes on retailers is that they can give an unfair advantage to domestic competitors. On top of this we see companies already subject to other discriminatory measures in these and other Central and Eastern European countries, making it difficult to operate, regularly breaching single market rules and not observing European standards of rule of law. These have a significant effect on the prices consumers pay and the choice of products and services available to them.
A tax on turnover fundamentally misunderstands a business model which has provided a real benefit to consumers in offering the best products and service at very competitive prices. A tax which wipes out a retailer’s already low profit can only lead to two outcomes: either the consumer pays more, or the retailer does not invest or even reduces its presence in the country. These taxes apply particularly to brick-and-mortar shops already affected by the COVID epidemic and the challenges of digitalisation. These shops act as an anchor for the well-being of town centres and rural communities, and have for many years been under massive pressure. If shops go, communities gradually decay.
Hence our request to governments to think about the impact of these short-sighted measures on their consumers, and to the Commission to continue to strictly enforce single market legislation and promote the rule of law across Europe.
Retail and wholesale depend on competitive markets in Europe12 Mar 2021
EuroCommerce was proud to welcome Commission Executive Vice-President Margrethe Vestager to the latest of its online Policy Talks today. The audience heard the Executive Vice President speak and answer questions on recovery after COVID, the digital and sustainability transformation of the EU economy and how competition policy can be aligned with the demands of the digital era to ensure a competitive EU market. On the challenges facing the retail and wholesale ecosystem during and after the COVID pandemic, Ms. Vestager said:
"During the crisis, Europe's retail and wholesale sectors showed a remarkable resilience, quickly adapting to changed working conditions, keeping employees and consumers safe, and ensuring security of supply. Our aim is to support these sectors by safeguarding strong and competitive markets and by promoting the necessary changes for businesses in the digital age."
EuroCommerce Director-General Christian Verschueren said:
“Ms. Vestager has often said something our sector believes passionately – that strong competition at home is the best means of achieving competitiveness globally, and delivering the best results for consumers. We compete every day for customers and need competitive supply chains and a properly-functioning single market to be able to serve them with a wide choice of the best products and services at a competitive price. A competition framework fit for the digital age, which, through effective enforcement, supports resilience and the digital and sustainability transition, will be vital for the future of our sector.”
The retail and wholesale sector needs competition legislation and the EU recovery funding to work together to support the resilience of the sector and the digital and sustainability transition. The rapidly-changing digital environment has created increased transparency for consumers, but also opened up completely new sales channels for manufacturers to sell direct to EU consumers online, and increased competition from outside the EU. We see a real need for competition rules to reflect these fundamental changes. Europe also needs a vibrant and competitive agri-food supply chain and to address the problems surrounding the fragmentation of the single market by major brand manufacturers, and competition rules and their enforcement can help achieve this important objective.
A full recording of the session is available here.
Digital 2030 targets: creating an omnichannel retail and wholesale world09 Mar 2021
Welcoming the publication of the Commission’s 2030 Digital Targets today, Christian Verschueren, Director-General of EuroCommerce said:
“We very much support the Commission in their planning for the successful digital transformation of Europe by 2030. Retail and wholesale companies are already embracing digital, and have invested in accelerating their plans in response to the significant switch to online sales during the COVID pandemic. But the sector needs help in this: for example, 2 out of 3 retail companies, especially SMEs, do not sell online and have, as a result, been hard hit by the crisis. These urgently need support to make this transition, vital to their survival. All businesses need Europe to invest in a state-of-the-art digital infrastructure everywhere and to upskill its people to remain competitive.”
The retail and wholesale sector is undergoing a profound transformation, responding to consumer demand for increased choice of products, and choice of how, when and where they buy them. The COVID crisis has demonstrated how important digitalisation for retailers and wholesalers. While many in our sector have been affected by the crisis, those who had online operations were able at least to partly mitigate the impact. But building up e-commerce and an omnichannel offering to consumers takes a lot of initial investment and a lot of time to break even.
Retail and wholesale has been recognised by the Commission as an essential ecosystem for European recovery, serving as an important link between multiple industry ecosystems and a vital conduit to the consumers and businesses who buy their products. Our sector is the largest private sector employer in Europe, and also a linchpin in the viability of local ecosystems – a town centre or rural community with no shops quickly decays and declines. Hence the need for investment by the EU and national governments under the Next Generation EU programme and the overall EU budget to bolster the resilience as well as the digital and green transformation of retail and wholesale.
To provide direction and ideas, EuroCommerce has called for a European Pact for Commerce with 10 asks on investment and 10 asks on policy.
Autonomous and voluntary social partnership the right template for fair social conditions03 Mar 2021
Commenting on the launch today of the Commission Action Plan for the European Pillar of Social Rights, EuroCommerce Director-General Christian Verschueren said:
“Retail and wholesale are a people business, serving people. We provide stable and fulfilling jobs for 29 million Europeans; that is 1 in 7 jobs. We value immensely the work of all our colleagues who have worked during the COVID pandemic serving our customers, keeping the shelves stocked with the daily essentials consumers need, and adapting to a massive shift to online sales. Yet, we do not take that dedication for granted. We reward people and ensure that they can work safely. In most countries, the employment conditions in our sector are subject to collective agreements, and this has worked well. Active social partnership is a tried formula for managing and building consensus around changes in business and in the jobs people do. We therefore naturally support Commission efforts to promote social dialogue and socioeconomic convergence. But this should go with the grain of what is already in place nationally and be within the boundaries of the EU treaties.”
And while food retailers have been working hard to keep the food supply chain running smoothly, companies and employees in the non-grocery sector have faced restrictions, along with business uncertainty and job insecurity, for almost a year. We are seeking help in EU and national recovery plans to help investment in resilience for all our sector, and in equipping our companies and employees to play a key role in the digital and sustainability transition.
National law and practice have made collective bargaining the norm in retail and wholesale, with collective agreements providing appropriate levels of protection for employees. Some 88% of staff in our sector are on permanent contracts and are ensured good levels of social protection. Women account for 62% of the workforce in retail and the sector gives millions of young people their first step-up into employment. As a sector, we are committed to giving all involved in retail and wholesale as good working conditions as possible. Experience has shown that autonomous collective bargaining, particularly through constructive engagement with our social partners at the level closest to the workplace, works better in agreeing positive change rather than top-down legislation.
It is thus not just a matter of principle, but also of practical common sense, that EU social legislation, such as the draft Directives on minimum wages and pay transparency, are adjusted to fully reflect the autonomy of social partners at national, sectoral and company level. The best way of meeting the current challenges is through stronger EU investment in promoting autonomous and voluntary social dialogue throughout Europe. This was why, together with our social partner UNI Europa and other leading players in the service sector, we recently called upon the Commission for capacity-building in this area and not pursue further proposed cuts to EU sectoral social dialogue.
Brand manufacturers again seek to stop any balancing of their market strength25 Feb 2021
Reacting to the multinational brand lobby group AIM’s call for an EU market investigation of retail alliances, EuroCommerce Director-General Christian Verschueren and Independent Retail Europe Director-General Else Groen have issued the following joint statement:
Europe’s retailers and wholesalers operate in a limited number of countries, and in a highly competitive market, with high fixed costs and low margins of 1-3%. Retail Alliances help create efficiencies and synergies in sourcing in the single market when dealing with powerful multinational brand suppliers who operate across the globe and enjoy margins some ten times higher than those of retailers. These suppliers are constantly presenting retailers with price increases bearing little connection to the product or the cost of producing it. Retail alliances also help mitigate the negative impact of territorial supply constraints imposed by large brand suppliers, which fragment the single market and lead to often significant and unjustified price differences across Europe. European retail alliances are all subject to clear governance principles to ensure compliance with EU and national regulation, including competition rules.
Last year in response to a call from the European Parliament, the Commission’s Joint Research Centre produced a report with very clear findings – that retail alliances can help competition by generating efficiencies and providing a countervailing force against large brand manufacturers, and thus lead to lower consumer prices. In November 2019, Commission Executive Vice-President Margrethe Vestager unequivocally recognised the pro-competitive effects of European retail and wholesale alliances: “Buying alliances between retailers have become a key component of grocery supply chains. They can bring lower prices to consumers for food and personal care brands that they purchase daily.”
Consumers have a wide set of competing options when they do their shopping. They will shop where price, convenience and availability of products makes most sense for them – be it online or offline. Retailers cannot thus be considered as ‘gatekeepers’ controlling access to the markets in which they operate: in a highly competitive market, a retailer who does not have a product on its shelf risks the customer simply going to a competitor. This is particularly true for the ‘must-have’ products supplied by increasingly concentrated multinational brand suppliers. They promote these products heavily, and increasingly sell their products direct to consumers in competition with retailers.