Europe’s 3rd largest e-commerce market continues to grow, increasing by 22% in 2011, with a turnover of over 37 billion euros and an average basket value of 90 euros.
I’m not here to tell you all the ways in which you can boost your internet sales – there are many specialist companies across Europe for that and you will no doubt find one on your doorstep.
Instead, I will try to give you an overview of supply chain practicalities to help you decide how best to distribute your products in France while ensuring value for money. Unlike the world of the web, logistics still comes up against geographical barriers and limitations.
AN UNUSUAL GEOGRAPHICAL SETUP:
First of all, let’s quickly go over the geographical context, given that our school days seem long behind us and that operational realities are often forgotten in our « virtual » world. Yet they have a direct impact on your orders and as such we can’t begin to understand how best to deliver to customers without them!
Geography lesson 1: Europe’s largest e-commerce market – Germany
87% of Germany’s population live in cities (82 million inhabitants over 357,000km2, i.e. 231 inhabitants/km2) and its demographic distribution is evenly spread throughout the country. It has 13 cities with populations over 500,000, including Berlin in the east, Frankfurt in the west, Hamburg in the north, Stuttgart in the south west and Munich in the south east. Motorways make up around 8% of Germany’s total road network. This even distribution has allowed the development of a wide transport network, meaning that no part of the country is far from the main trunk roads.
Map of Germany
Geography lesson 2: Europe’s 2nd largest e-commerce market – the UK
84% of the UK’s population live in England (51 million inhabitants over 130,000km2, i.e. 395 inhabitants/km2). Most of the population are crammed into a kind of rectangle between London and Bristol in the south and Liverpool and Leeds in the north, with only 300km either way (including 5 cities with populations over 500,000). Motorways only make up around 2.5% of England’s total road network, but the short distances involved are a key advantage for distribution.
Map of the UK
Geography lesson 3: Europe’s 3rd largest e-commerce market – France
France’s population (63 million inhabitants over 550,000km2, i.e. only 115 inhabitants/km2 according to data for metropolitan France) is unevenly spread across the country, with the major cities strung along a 1000km stretch between north and south (from Lille to Paris, Lyon and Marseille). The population is disproportionately centred around Paris and its suburbs, where there are more than 12 million inhabitants! This traditional centralisation has resulted in a road network that has Paris at its heart and that makes transport between other regions difficult. In short, this disproportionate bias towards the Paris area (20% of France’s total population) has created regions with small populations, which find themselves far from the main trunk roads. And this in a country covering an area 57% bigger than Germany and 4 times bigger than England!! Motorways make up around 4.5% of France’s total road network.
Map of France
I hope that this has given you a better understanding of the importance of geography in e-commerce, and highlighted the fact that we can’t undo, in the space of a few years, the result of centuries of population movements and distribution across a country.
This situation impacts upon distribution in several different ways. In trying to do away with the concept of distance in order to make products accessible to anyone at any time, e-commerce has sought to offer a single delivery date. But this promise comes at a price:
(1) Delivery periods:
The sheer size of the country and its low population density (50% lower than in Germany and 70% lower than in England) both impact on delivery periods. Deliveries to the south of France can often take 48 hours and you may find that you have to pay extra for next-day deliveries.
The uneven population distribution across the country, including low density areas such as the south west or central France, increases delivery costs as accessing these regions can be trickier.
The particular demography of this country can make day-to-day deliveries less reliable, as it is generally difficult to make up for even the slightest delay. If a package misses the train from Lille or Paris, it will automatically be delayed in its journey to Lyon or Marseille, due to the distances involved. We shouldn’t underestimate the real issues raised by large, rural areas with sparse populations or by mountainous regions.
France’s geographical setup has shaped the construction and development of its transport networks for decades. In the next article we will be looking at how deliveries are made in France and the main players involved, and this should give you a better idea of how best to organise your distribution in this somewhat unusual country…