On 28 June 2018, ESBA Secretary General Patrick Gibbels gave the views of ESBA's members during a well-attended panel discussion in the European Parliament on the topic of Online Platforms.
In May of this year, the European Commission launched its proposal on a Regulation promoting fairness and transparency for business users of online intermediation services (Platforms to Business/P2B). The proposal has been debated heavily ever since.
Explaining the point of view of micro-businesses, Mr. Gibbels explained started by expressing the need to underline the importance of online platforms to micro-entrepreneurs. Online platforms, the larger ones in particular, have made massive R&D investments, sometimes hundreds of millions, into understanding the market, setting up very effective distribution channels, dealing with legal and language barriers, and so on. At the same time, they offer any beginning tiny entrepreneur immediate access to a huge potential customer base. This should not be overlooked when discussing this proposal. In light with the recent clampdown of the European Commission on (American) tech giants, the discussion at European level seems to have turned very black and white and small versus large, which is not a good way to have this debate. Far more nuance is required to come to a result that is satisfactory to all market players as well as consumers.
Gibbels also underlined that ESBA is not in favor of the Commission's proposal to simply exempt small businesses from having to implement internal complaint handling systems. This is not realistic as good customer service and adequate complaint handling are at the very core of any successful business. "If you want a thriving business, you need an excellent product or service, and excellent customer service. Especially in an online market where reviews and ratings are public and can literally make or break a company, customer service is absolutely of primary importance. We therefore have question marks with the Commission’s intentions of regulating complaint handling mechanisms", Gibbels said.
ESBA outlines four major points of improvement in the P2B discussion:
- There really need to be transparency in ranking. Without asking platforms to give away they entire algorithms, it is conducive to the market that businesses are able to understand WHY they are ranked a certain way.
- There simply needs to be an OBLIGATION for platforms to explain in detail why a company is being delisted. I have spoken to small retailers that were delisted without explanation. After a long fight were granted access again but could not simply be re-listed, so basically had to start from scratch again. This is not fair and needs to be addresses asap.
- Customer service needs to be very visible, easily accessible and with as much human interaction as possible.
- When terms and conditions are changed by the platform, sufficient notice needs to be given so that small players can adequately adjust. At least two weeks is a minimum.
For more information, please contact Patrick Gibbels at the ESBA Secretariat.