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Publié le
Mercredi 16 Février 2022
Having emerged in the early 2000s, e-commerce now accounts for 13% of the retail trade in goods, rising by 37% in 2020 compared to 2019 due to the Covid-19 crisis. Although the two leading positions in the French market are held by specialised players, Amazon and the French company Cdiscount, the major retail chains (Leclerc, Carrefour, FNAC-Darty, Auchan, etc.) are very present. Nearly 200,000 commercial companies, as well as industrial, artisan, and agricultural businesses, have e-commerce sites. Finally, sites operating exclusively from abroad such as Wish or Alibaba also have strong positions. Platforms such as eBay or Vinted, which are very successful, were not included in the scope of the mission.

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E-commerce customers come from all regions, social classes, and generations, although there is an over-representation of people under 50 and families with at least two children. Between 10% and 30% of French people do not use it by choice or because they are unable to do so (illiteracy, white zones, etc.).

The environmental impact of e-commerce is discussed. Its greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions balance, analysed on a life cycle basis, depends essentially on the production stages of the goods sold. However, the mission did not find any fundamental difference in the production methods of products sold in shops or online, even though online trade has very strong positions in sectors where imports from countries outside the European Union are in the majority (electronic products, clothing, toys, etc.). The main difference in the GHG balance between these two distribution channels lies in the final stages of storage and distribution to the consumer. In this respect, the mission calls for caution with regard to the very positive assessments presented by e-commerce players, given that the volume of deliveries – one billion parcels per year, mainly in home deliveries – can generate greenhouse gas emissions and fine particles, with major health consequences. Therefore, to be effective from an environmental point of view, last-mile delivery must favour low-carbon fleets and optimise flows. With regard to land artificialisation, the increase in the number of warehouses linked to e-commerce would contribute to less than 1% of the annual consumption of natural, agricultural, and forestry areas, but could have a significant local impact, particularly when very large warehouses are built.

The development of e-commerce has disrupted the trade and logistics sectors, which account for 20% of market jobs. The annual growth in the number of employees in retail trade was 3% between 1994 and 2002, but only 1% between 2002 and 2019. The lower employment intensity of e-commerce compared to physical commerce has probably contributed to this decline. Indeed, the stronger e-commerce is in a sector, the more pronounced the drop in employment. As such, job losses have been observed in the toy, shoe, and clothing sectors, while job creation has been dynamic in the food trade, which has little competition from this distribution channel. Furthermore, e-commerce is creating jobs in the transport and logistics sector.

There are worrying signs of disruption. The development of free delivery has contributed to the degradation of margins for omnichannel companies and in particular for the retail sector. While some pure players are backed by profitable multi-activity groups, such as Amazon with its cloud business, and may be losing money on retail, they are putting their competitors in a difficult position. The latter are therefore encouraged to rebuild their margins, which could result in an acceleration of the automation of their warehouses and shops with potentially significant effects on employment.

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