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What should I know about delivery services?

What should I know about delivery services?

Depending on the size of your company, your product characteristics, whether you operate only domestically or cross-border, your business model and your customers’ needs and preferences, it is important to choose the delivery solution that works best for you – and your customers.

One way to approach this is first to understand your customers’ expectations in order to select the best-fit delivery operators. Make sure also you are familiar with national and European requirements on the rights of your customers and when shipping goods across Europe.

Understand the needs of your customers

Online shoppers expect to be able to choose from various and flexible delivery options. Features on the point of delivery, time, cost of delivery and convenience of return are fundamental factors influencing their decision to shop with you as well as your decision when looking for the right operator(s) for your customers. The degree of flexibility in your offerings (and therefore of your delivery operator(s)) and price will differentiate you from your competitors.

Point of delivery

The basic ‘points of delivery' most commonly offered by parcel delivery operators are home delivery, delivery at work and delivery at the customer’s chosen address.

Many operators also offer additional flexibility, such as local stores (e.g. petrol stations, newsagent's) or automatic parcel stations/lockers, which allow customers to collect their parcel after local post office closing hours or outside working hours. A few operators provide the ability to redirect the parcel while still in transit.

Delivery time

Different services in terms of time of delivery include:

•    Non-express delivery services: Usually with a non-guaranteed delivery time of 2-3 days (domestically);
•    Express delivery services: With guaranteed delivery by a specific day and time, for which the customers might pay a premium, such as by the end of the next day or other time-definite (or day-definite) time, including next day, evening delivery and Saturday delivery. Several operators provide same-day delivery (domestically) and delivery during agreed time slots.

Faster delivery and choice of a specific time slot are increasingly popular with customers.

Real-time information

Customers increasingly expect real-time information during the delivery process. Offering track-and-trace functionality will enable your customers (and you) to check where the parcel is at any time.

Cost of delivery

Cost of delivery is an important factor for your visitor in deciding to go ahead with a purchase. Customers expect low cost, even free, delivery (and return), or to agree to pay more for delivery only in exchange for extra services, faster or more convenient delivery.

Cost of delivery is also an important factor in your total costs. If you manage to obtain rebates on your delivery prices, you may have a competitive advantage over other similar e-retailers. As a small player, you may not have the power to negotiate tariffs and conditions with delivery operators. On the other hand, you can work with specialised operators, such as parcel brokers and consolidators, to benefit from negotiated or discounted prices.

Dealing with returns

Online shoppers find inconvenient and costly return solutions very frustrating. Make sure, therefore, that you offer an easy and user-friendly return procedure and the way you provide all the information is clear and well structured.

Offering multiple options when it comes to returning orders could increase the chance of the customer using your web shop again. Best practices are:

•    Picking up directly from your customer;
•    Including a return label in the parcel or making it available directly on your website. This allows the customer to drop the parcel off at the post office or collection point for them to process the return;
•    Providing the option of dropping the parcel off in your physical shop, if any;

Partnering with a local shop network. This enables the customer to return the parcel to a convenient shop.

Added value feature to offer

To increase the chance of a customer purchasing from your web shop more than once, consider offering some added value features, such as e-mail notifications or text messages to update customers on order status, insurance when the items get lost or damaged during transport (when selling to businesses), and extra service at delivery, such as installation of the product (e.g. furniture, electronic equipment).

Take into consideration that there may be national variations in customers’ preferred delivery options and acceptable transit times. Contact the e-commerce association in your own country or the destination country to check local practice. (Find here the national members of EMOTA and/or Ecommerce Europe)
You can propose different delivery options to your customers. You should indicate precisely the costs of each delivery service. Do not forget to indicate clearly if the costs are included in any quote you make.
In order to avoid unnecessary returns, take care to comply with country-specific requirements in post codes when sending parcels and use an up-to-date address verification tool as early as possible in the ordering process.
Make sure you inform your customers before they place the order about the delivery conditions (including return procedure and cost of returning the goods). You will bear the cost of returning the goods if you don’t properly inform your customers about the return procedure.

Look around at which market players meet the needs

Depending on the weight, size, volumes (individually and in number) and destination of the packages you ship, as well as your customers’ preferences, it is worthwhile investigating the best fit-for-purpose service. Service offerings differ depending on the type of delivery operators and the markets where they are active.

You can decide to collaborate with your country’s National Postal Operator (NPO). This will also offer cross-border services through its network with the NPO of the destination country, or other subsidiaries of its own.

If you work with global integrators (such as DHL, FedEx, TNT Express and UPS), you can rely on their integrated networks for cross-border delivery. Typically, they offer time-defined delivery (either express (24-28 hours), or deferred (4-5 days)).

Couriers can be useful for expedited and secure delivery, usually guaranteeing tracking of the items and day- and time-certain delivery, with a focus on same-day and (cross-border) next-day deliveries of light weights (<10kg). Some of them operate only in urban areas.

Furthermore, there are many more alternative express and parcel operators on the market, whose offerings may differ in terms of services, geographical coverage and business models.

Use of specialised delivery service operators is on the increase, especially for small or medium- sized retailers, because of the potential to obtain better prices, a broader range of services and higher quality, and/or reliability of delivery services:

•    Parcel brokers offer you low delivery prices, by either buying delivery slots in bulk from several NPO, integrators or couriers and reselling them; or obtaining the lowest price on the day from a variety of parcel couriers;
•    Parcel and courier consolidators prepare and collect parcels and packets (products below 2 kg with a similar size of a letter) before they enter the delivery operator’s pipeline. By consolidating large volumes from many small senders, the consolidator obtains larger discounts from the delivery operator than you would have been able to obtain on your own;
•    Logistics fulfilment centres provide an end-to-end service, including storing the goods, picking and packing the orders and providing customer service and return management;
•    Software solution providers support e-logistics and e-fulfillment and thus improve the efficiency and quality of the services. They can offer solutions for electronic document interchange (EDI), tracking, labelling, integration of several delivery operators, personalisation of deliveries, push-notifications to recipients etc.

In case of cross border delivery, you may also decide to reduce transit times by transporting the parcels across the border yourself and use local postal operators for delivery to your customers’ point of delivery. This is called vendor conveyance or “direct injection”. Operating this way is generally only attractive if you are dealing with large volumes.

Comply with national and European requirements

When selling electrical or electronic equipment, you must enable your customers to return waste electrical and electronic equipment (WEEE) products free of charge at the end of their life (find out more about WEEE), and inform them as a minimum about the take-back service you offer. This means that you have an obligation to take back a product, which has the same characteristics as the one your customer purchased. Therefore, make sure your operator can provide this service.

Just as you do in your domestic market, you must make sure when shipping goods (foods or non-foods) within the European Union that you familiarise yourself with and comply with relevant EU and national rules, whether you are the manufacturer or only the distributor.

If you are shipping food products, there are specific food safety requirements (e.g. on primary responsibility for food safety, on traceability from whom and to whom a product has been supplied) as well as requirements on food information for consumers. You can find more on general food information for consumers in the section on the Europa website on food labelling.

Non-food products are also covered by EU and national labelling requirements (such as CE marking for toys and electronic appliances, energy labels, footwear, textile productsdetergents and cosmetics).

You should also consider the following when offering cross-border delivery:

•    Your VAT obligations may not be the same if you sell in other EU countries;
•    If you ship goods that are classified as potentially dangerous (such as perfume or nail varnish) when transported by road, rail, inland waterways, sea, and by air,  you must make sure that you comply international regulations on the security requirements for packing and transportation;
•    Payment preferences remain largely national and vary quite a lot across Europe. The option of payment on delivery, such as postal or bank transfer after the delivery or cash–on–delivery, are very common in some EU countries (such as Greece and Poland),. Find out more about customer payment preferences.


If you sell to a particular EU country, you should make sure that your pre-packed food sold is labelled in at least the language spoken in that country. In case you sell specific product for which no EU requirements are laid down, make sure you comply with the national legislation. You can find an overview of the most important labelling requirements and the legislations applied per Member State in this overview (, by CBI Market Information Database).

Respect your customers’ rights

Unless you agree otherwise with your customer on the time of delivery, any goods ordered at a distance must be physically delivered to the buyer within 30 days of the conclusion of the contract.

If you are not able to stick to the time of delivery for any reason (e.g. because of a problem with your supplier), you should inform your customer and reach a mutual agreement on delivery at a later moment. The customer is obliged to accept another delivery time, except if the initial agreed delivery period is essential. For example, when the goods in questions are needed for a specific event, e.g. a wedding dress. The customer can then decide to terminate the contract.

If you fail to deliver the goods within the agreed timeframe, the customer has the right to cancel the purchase. You must reimburse the customer all sums paid under the contract within 14 days. The customers might have the right to compensatory damages

Liability for loss of or damage to shipped goods

Before the goods are physically in the possession of your customers, you as retailer are responsible for any losses and damage.

Strong packing materials will reduce the risk of damage. This is particularly important for certain product types, such as electronic equipment, fragile goods and luxury goods.

If the goods are damaged, the customer can choose either to accept the goods at a lower price, or send it back (at your expense) in exchange for a replacement, or exercise the right to withdraw from the contract (read more on guarantee and after-sales).

Procedure for dealing with shipping complaints

As a seller, you are directly responsible for any complaints from your customer, including about the delivery of the items (find out more about complaints handling).  

You normally deal with the delivery complaint with the delivery operator with whom you have a contractual agreement (no matter how many subcontractors the operator has worked with) to find a satisfactory solution for your customer.

If your delivery operator cannot offer a satisfactory solution, it can be useful to use out-of-court dispute resolution mechanisms, or other European judicial procedures.

If you have used the postal service, you can also contact the relevant national public complaints authority for additional assistance and guidance.


Note that a track-and-trace system indicates where in the process a delay occurred. Check with your parcel delivery operator if there are integrated track-and–trace systems when this operator works with other operators for cross-border delivery.

Sources of information

Look around which market players meet the needs

•    Deliver in Europe platform.

Comply with national and European requirements

•    EU business (2011), Product labeling, available at
•    CBI Market Information Database (2014), Member States overview: Implementation of EU legislation on food labelling

Respect your customers’ rights

•    European Commission (2012), “Online services, including e-commerce, in the Single market”, p 89-94 available at
•    Your Europe (2014), Distance Selling.
•    Consumer Rights Directive, Article 18
•    Unfair Commercial Practices Directive

Liability for loss of or damage to shipped goods

•    Consumer Right Directive, Article 20

Procedure for dealing with shipping complaints

•    Consumer Right Directive, Article 20