Digit researchers author new policy studies on jobs in quick commerce

30 March 2023

Digit researchers have produced two new policy studies exploring work in the emerging quick commerce sector.  The studies were commissioned by the Foundation for European Progressive Studies and Uni Europa.

Dr Rachel Verdin, Dr Wil Hunt and Dr Steve Rolf took part in a panel discussion to launch the report alongside Agnes Jongerius (Member of the European Parliament), László Andor (FEPS Secretary General), Max Uebe (Head of Unit ‘Future of Work, Youth Employment’, European Commission) and Oliver Roethig, Regional Secretary (UNI Europa) among others.

Wil Hunt, Steve Rolf and Rachel Verdin at the launch

Wil Hunt, Steve Rolf and Rachel Verdin at the launch event

The Covid-19 pandemic led to a boom in the online grocery market, accelerating the growth of new quick-commerce (q-commerce) startups delivering from “dark stores” and promising super-fast delivery times.

The new studies highlight how the emergence of q-commerce has the potential to disrupt existing business models in retail and e-commerce in the medium term. However, the precarious financial foundations of many q-commerce firms also raise serious questions about how the sector can find sustainable “paths to profitability” and the consequences of these shifts for the workers involved.

The reports draw on desk research, interviews, and qualitative research with workers to provide insights into q-commerce startups, the business strategy of the rapid-delivery sector and its impact on work in Europe, including labour issues and policy implications.  It investigates three countries (Germany, Spain and the UK), finding that the q-commerce sector has benefited from advances in digital technology, weak labour markets, and abundant investment capital, although there are signs that the latter of these may be drying up.

The research finds:

  • despite adopting a direct employment model (in contrast to other parts of the on-demand sector) work in the sector is often precarious;
  • Q-commerce firms are losing substantial amounts of money and their venture capital backers increasingly demand ‘paths to profitability’;
  • tightening financial conditions are putting a squeeze on workers – whose work is becoming more precarious, dangerous, and intense; and
  • despite numerous challenges there are opportunities for q-commerce workers to organise collectively in order to improve their conditions.

Read the reports

Verdin, R., S. Rolf, W. Hunt and S. Garben (2023) ‘Back to the dark ages? Q-commerce, rapid  retail and the changing landscape of retail work’ (Brussels: Foundation for Progressive Studies).

Rolf, S., W. Hunt and R. Verdin (2023) ‘Getting the goods: Trade unions and strategy in the quick-commerce sector’ (Brussels: Foundation for European Progressive Studies).

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