Why we don’t deliver our speaker fabric to all countries and why it’s becoming fewer.

A few days ago, I once again found an incredibly cheap flight ticket promising to take me to the destination of my next dream vacation for a mere 29 euros from an airport near me. But, of course, upon closer inspection, it was anything but a bargain: Various service fees, flight safety charges, fuel surcharges, insurance costs, airport fees – and of course, hefty additional costs for any luggage larger than a lunchbox drove the actual ticket price up to a hefty triple-digit amount.

You’re wondering what this has to do with speaker fabric? Quite simply: as an operator of an online shop for speaker fabric, you can experience similar surprises on your shipping service providers‘ monthly invoices ­– with the fine but unpleasant difference that all additional costs are incurred long after the shipment has been dispatched. Once a package is on its way, there’s no turning back. Especially for deliveries abroad, this can quickly spoil your entire budgeting, with surcharges for islands, peculiar extra fees for deliveries to »remote areas«, or exorbitant return costs for undeliverable shipments. If a shipment is returned from a non-EU country, you’ll also be charged double customs duties for export and re-import. And all of this is rarely foreseeable when you ship an order.

So, you’ll do everything in your power to prevent such surprises from getting out of hand: First, you rely exclusively on shipping service providers that are proven to be reliable, work as transparently as possible, and whose delivery drivers don’t return every other shipment as undeliverable. Next, you choose only shipping methods that allow for precise tracking, and you tweak your IT systems so that your customers receive an automatic email with the tracking number of their shipment in advance. Then, you exclude countries for which there are no clearly calculable shipping costs from the option for easy online ordering. And, after the third undeliverable shipment returned from outside the EU, you decide to serve only private customers within the EU.

All of this, of course, contradicts the spontaneous impulse to make all customers around the world happy with your high-quality speaker fabric. It means additional effort and potentially loss of revenue, so it initially hurts. However, it contributes to the long-term survival of your business because it puts an end to pointlessly burning significant amounts of money every month on shipping your speaker fabrics. With this in mind, you can easily brush off occasional remarks from prospective customers in countries you don’t deliver to, as well as the complaints of some penny-pinchers who argue that shipping as an (unfortunately untraceable) merchandise shipment would be much cheaper. Knowing that it is ultimately your free choice to whom you sell, you finally lean back and think that everything is now well sorted.

However, your sense of contentment doesn’t last long because you didn’t account for the endless ingenuity of administrative bureaucracy. It keeps coming up with new antics, especially in the national implementation of EU directives. The latest example is the so-called Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR). This term encompasses, among other things, the obligations for environmentally responsible collection and recycling of sales and shipping packaging and the recyclability of products.

As an end customer, you have little to do with EPR. You simply dispose of all packaging and products according to the instructions in the designated collection containers and, if necessary, at the recycling center. You may occasionally be annoyed that products with a certain recycling system marking have become slightly more expensive because manufacturers and retailers pass on the costs of mandatory participation in the corresponding recycling programs to the products.

In principle, extended producer responsibility is, in our opinion, an important and welcome development – especially since at Akustikstoff.com, we have been actively working to continuously reduce the ecological footprint in the production and shipping of speaker fabric for years. However, each EU member state develops its own procedures based on the very broadly defined EPR guidelines of the EU, and that’s where the bureaucratic madness begins.

In some EU countries, realistic small-scale limits keep the costs for licensing and the effort for reporting the packaging placed on the market low. In other countries, however, there are no such small-scale limits. In such cases, full-scale contribution to a national recycling system is mandatory even for a single delivery to that country, with costs regularly amounting to several hundred euros per year. And the documentation requirements create considerable internal costs on top of that. Even people with pronounced difficulty in math can easily imagine that, for our business not to become completely uneconomical, we’d have to deliver nearly absurd quantities of speaker fabric to these countries. The beneficiaries of such models are at best internationally operating large companies, which have probably also conducted intensive lobbying efforts beforehand. And unlike small businesses, they can afford such lobbying.

But that’s not all. Some other countries now even require a national representative and notarization on-site to register with their respective recycling systems. It’s hard to imagine a better example of protectionism through the back door and the deliberate undermining of the idea of EU-wide free trade.

Smaller, specialised online retailers are increasingly being pushed out of some national markets due to such constructs around EPR, because violations of the requirements can lead to significant fines and penalties. A single delivery in improperly licensed packaging already constitutes such a violation. Some companies are currently taking this risk, probably in ignorance of the authorities‘ resourcefulness. Since the introduction of the so-called One-Stop Shop (OSS) for EU VAT reporting, it has become easy to identify shipments to every single EU country. And we don’t want to be criminalised and penalised. So, regretfully, we can’t deliver our speaker fabric to several EU states any longer, as frustrating as this may be for both our customers and ourselves.