“Belgium has definitely been upping the ante in e-commerce”, states Dirk Lannoo, vice-CEO at Katoen Natie, a global logistics services provider headquartered at the Port of Antwerp, Flanders. “To give an example: at off-peak moments, 400 to 500 people are working in our e-commerce warehouses. That number doubles every year! When demand peaks—around holidays, for instance—our distribution centers even employ up to 1,500 people.”
Katoen Natie is far from the only logistics player with an extensive e-commerce footprint in Flanders. Another example is Danish toy manufacturer Lego. Whenever someone in Europe, New Zealand or Australia buys Lego blocks through the company’s web shops, their order is shipped from the Kuehne+Nagel warehouse in Geel, Flanders.
Furthermore, products ordered online at Dutch DIY chain Gamma are also distributed by Belgian warehouses for delivery across the Benelux. Nespresso capsules distributed by Swiss food and drinks group Nestlé share a similar story. Meanwhile, American sports articles producer Nike has located its European e-commerce centers in Ham, Flanders—and recently announced yet another investment in its local ‘European Logistics Campus’.
“We’re a Dutch company but still decided to ship all our packages destined for the Netherlands, Belgium and Luxemburg from the Katoen Natie warehouses in Belgium,” says Rudin Petit-Jean, CEO at Gamma Belgium. “Labor costs may be lower in the Netherlands, but Katoen Natie still submitted the best offer to the tender we issued.”
Suzanne Decock, spokesperson at Nespresso, agrees: “Higher labor costs are just one side of the story. The truth is that a central location, close to our customers, is more important. We expect Espresso to continue growing, which should generate additional jobs in Belgium.”
“The difference in labor cost is actually diminishing,” adds Mr. Lannoo (Katoen Natie). “It important to focus on the strengths of the e-commerce industry in our region, a central location between London, Amsterdam and Frankfurt being the most obvious one. In addition, international package delivery players – such as FedEx, DPD and DHL – all have major sites in our vicinity, enabling us to deliver more quickly to our customers. The central and easily-accessible Brussels Airport only adds to that. In short, Belgium has vast potential to become the Mecca for e-commerce.”
With Dutch as its official language, Flanders (Dutch: Vlaanderen) is the northern region of Belgium. The capital of both Belgium and Flanders is Brussels.