We sat down with Luke Lloyd, IPC's Market Research Manager, to ask him about the trends seen in the IPC Cross-Border E-Commerce Shopper Survey. We also look at e-commerce consumer preferences for sustainable delivery.

As the person behind the IPC Cross-Border E-Commerce Shopper Survey, could you tell us more about why you decided to study the shopping habits worldwide?

The survey first took place via a pilot survey of 150 respondents in 2014, and expanded to a much wider scale in 2016 – the year that I joined IPC. The survey has grown every year, to reach 35,737 respondents in 2019.

The idea for the Shopper Survey came from IPC’s members, with early support from the IPC Board to expand the research project from its initial pilot phase to then cover all of IPC’s Members – plus other key e-commerce markets that are important for us all, such as China and India.

The idea behind the survey in the beginning is the same rationale which is kept now, which is that the survey results should always be actionable. Every year, we change the survey questionnaire by about 30%, and we always have the same questions in mind:

  • What information do we need that we can’t get elsewhere?
  • What can we do with this survey information?
  • How can it be used by IPC or our Member posts for Operations, Communications or Strategy?

What trends have stuck out to you during your years doing the survey?

The reason I enjoy running this survey so much is that many of the questions change year-on-year, as the e-commerce delivery market also evolves every year. Some key findings that we have been able to use operationally are:

In the 2016 and 2017 surveys, we looked at how consumers value parcel tracking vs. delivery speed: what do they value more. It became clear that parcel visibility and information on the delivery date was more important than the speed, with consumers placing a higher value on cross-border delivery arriving on day 5 rather than in a range of 2-4 days. Such information helped us drive forward the tracking elements of our INTERCONNECT service.

More recent surveys have put a larger emphasis on Customs, as consumer satisfaction analysis shows that customs is a real ‘pain point’ for cross-border e-shoppers. This insight has driven IPC’s PDDP service forward.

This year, the survey delved into sustainability when shopping online, did you find any particular shopping habits interesting? And if so, from which country?

Personally, I found it very interesting that 28% of respondents strongly agreed that they would be willing to receive a package a few days later to reduce the environment impact. This concept of Consolidated Delivery works very much in favour of the posts and e-retailers, because it reduces the cost of delivery to the post and our e-retailer clients, while also reducing the environmental impact.

I noted with interest that Austria Post launched a consolidated delivery service in 2019 – Alles Post – and hope that this service will be successful from a postal and environmental point of view.

How do you think posts are responding to the need to provide more sustainable deliveries?

I do think that posts are responding to this need, with the IPC Environmental Measurement and Monitoring System clearly showing the progress made by posts. Posts are using more electric vehicles, more sustainable buildings and more renewable energy.

The more difficult question in the future relates to parcel pick-up instead of drop-off in order to reduce the environmental impact of parcel delivery deliveries. For all small and medium-sized parcels, pick up from a post office, parcel locker or other pick-up point would have a very positive impact. The issue only becomes difficult when considering that there are several competing networks (Amazon lockers, post offices, 3rd party lockers, etc.). A carrier-agnostic parcel pick-up approach is better for the environment and efficient for the e-retailer, but arguably a big challenge for the post in terms of losing our market advantage. 

Since the start of the Survey, what are the consumer habits that evolved the most? Have you seen a raise of people using alternative delivery points for parcels. Do you think posts are responding to the need for delivery alternatives fast enough?

In the first years of the survey, the biggest story was the rise of China and what this meant for parcels.

China increased its share of the cross-border e-commerce market, from 26% in 2016 to 36% in 2018. This information helped IPC and the post with our focus on deliveries coming from this region.

Items arriving from China have lower value and lower weight than items coming from other countries. As China’s market share grew, so the average value and weight of items decreased.

Another key trend has been the year-on-year increase in the use of smartphones for online shopping. Mobile commerce helps to accelerate the growth of e-commerce, because it increases the number of shopping opportunities for consumers. Also, as consumers use their phones so much, so posts need to ensure that our services are fully mobile-friendly, via tracking apps etc.

China has consistently been the hub of e-commerce due to the low cost of items and delivery, do you think this will change dramatically with the introduction of new restrictions from the EU?

Yes, I think this will have a huge impact. Let me take the example of a stereotypical teenage purchase from China, such as a mobile phone cover that costs €10, with free delivery. If the new EU restrictions increase the cost of this item to €15 or €20 via customs administration charges, so the consumer will stop buying this product from China. They will then buy this product in-store, or from a European e-retailer, or perhaps they’ll simply decide not to make the purchase at all. We’ve already seen this happen in Sweden, where such charges were already introduced in 2018. The effect was a sharp decline in purchases from China.

However, Chinese e-retailers like Alibaba, Wish and JD.com will not simply stand back and watch their European market disappear. Alibaba has already built a warehousing hub in Liege, Belgium, which they will use to store their most popular products already within the European market. This impacts on the post – rather than controlling the end-to-end delivery of the Chinese purchase, we’ll be increasingly used only for the last mile.

Have any countries been slow to adopt the trend of shopping online? If so, has there been a particular reason for this?

Within Europe, the UK has been the fastest to shop online, while countries in Southern Europe have been slower to shop online. Culturally, Mediterranean consumers prefer to see products before they buy them, while there is more of a history of catalogue shopping in Northern Europe.