Following recent publication of the European Parliament Working Group report calling for a Single E-Commerce Act to boost cross-border retail, the International Council of Shopping Centres (ICSC) will seek EU reassurance that a new policy framework will not adversely affect traditional retail stores, which contribute significantly to local economies and employment across Europe.
Bertrand Courtois Suffit, Chair of the ICSC European Public Affairs Committee said: "There needs to be more fairness in the treatment of physical versus online stores, the latter of which are often exempt from some sales taxes and don't have property taxes or the costs of maintenance and other expensive property upkeep. Online stores can charge lower prices but shoppers often use the physical stores to view the goods first, creating a free rider problem."
A study published by ICSC back in 2008 highlighted the true extent of shopping centers' contribution to the wider European economy. At that time nearly a quarter of retail sales in Europe were estimated to occur in shopping centers. The study also found that shopping centers directly employed 4 million workers across Europe a fifth of retail employment.
Since then online sales have soared and the EU wants to encourage e-commerce and online business with their huge potential for cross-border trading. However, it's not just the shopping center industry which is debating this approach, member countries are less willing to promote harmonization if it means consumers and citizens losing their national systems and rights.
Courtois Suffit said: "We welcome efforts to promote retail in all its forms as a key driver of recovery and growth in Europe, but we strongly believe that the potential of such a regime needs to be properly assessed and ICSC members want to ensure that the promotion of on-line trade does not damage employment, businesses or consumer protection in the broader retail sector."
The industry also has a responsibility to make sure that shopping centers embrace technological evolution where it delivers benefits for consumers, he added. "Harmonizing technology with retail outlets that offer physical experience of the product is what shoppers want most."
Source: Nicky Godding