Back to the Dark Ages?

Q-commerce, rapid retail and the changing landscape of retail work

Policy Study


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

This policy study draws 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.

The emergence of q-commerce demonstrates how digital platform technologies might upend business models in the retail industry in the medium term. Although q-commerce firms have an advantage over traditional retailers in providing faster delivery times, their business landscape is highly fluid and uncertain. The precarious financial foundations of q-commerce firms raise serious questions about the durability of the sector looking to discover a “path to profitability” and the consequences of these shifts for the workers involved.

Understanding the impact of rapid-delivery services on workers and the retail industry is crucial, given that retail is the largest private employer in most European economies.

The authors emphasise the need for careful attention to the business practices of q-commerce firms, their impact on the kind of work being done in retail, and the employment practices therein. Several recommendations are put forward for European policy. The report also provides a starting point for further research and policy development, including recruiting strategies for unions in the sector.

Here you can read the Spanish and German version of the ‘Back to the Dark Ages?’ policy study:

UNI Europa
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Rapid grocery worker conditions are worsening, states report

by The Grocer 30/05/2023
The findings of our FEPS study on the quick-commerce sector and the conditions of rider workers were picked up by the UK-website 'The Grocer’.

Quick commerce – not turning a fast buck

by Social Europe 15/05/2023
Article on Social Europe by the authors of 'Back to the Dark Ages?' FEPS Policy Study about the quick-commerce workers' rights.

O László Andor στο Φόρουμ των Δελφών

by News 24 7 28/04/2023
“László Andor discussing at the Delphi Economic Forum about the importance of social inclusion and ways to strengthen it”

Pourquoi – et comment – pérenniser Next Generation EU

by OFCE 27/04/2023
"Why - and how - to make Next Generation EU sustainable" OFCE Article about FEPS Policy Study "Making Next-Generation EU a permanent tool", with the collaboration of Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung, OFCE and Institut Emile Vandervelde