For four years’ work, it was not a bad result. In 2017, Advent bought Polish parcel locker operator InPost and its main shareholder Integer in deals valuing the pair’s equity at 430m zlotys (€102m).

On Wednesday the private equity group and two small co-investors sold 35 per cent of InPost for €2.8bn as it debuted in Amsterdam in Europe’s biggest listing so far this year.

The sale is the latest sign of investor hunger for ecommerce stocks as the pandemic drives an ever larger share of shopping online.

Even before the deal was priced, three big investors — BlackRock, Capital World Investors and Singapore’s GIC — committed to buy €1.03bn worth of shares. On Monday, InPost shortened the offer period and brought the listing forward by two days because of what it said was “significant investor demand”.

But besides looking for bright spots in the pandemic-stricken economy, the investors who drove InPost’s market capitalisation up 15 per cent to €9.2bn on the first day of trading are making a longer-term bet that it can shake up the way that online purchases find their way to customers’ homes after lockdowns have eased.

At the moment, delivery of those goods relies heavily on courier services. InPost offers an alternative: a network of automated lockers — which the company dubs automatic parcel machines (APMs) — dotted around towns and cities where customers can pick up purchases more or less at their convenience, rather than waiting for a courier to arrive.

Column chart of Revenues (bn zloty) showing Sales at InPost increase sharply

In Poland, 49 per cent of the population already lives within a 7-minute walk of one of InPost’s lockers and its app has 5.6m users. The group now plans to expand its model elsewhere in Europe.

“Five to seven years from now, my feeling is that door-to-door deliveries are going to be 40 per cent of the market or less,” said Rafal Brzoska, InPost’s chief executive and founder, who retains a 12 per cent stake in the business. He argued that the remaining 60 per cent — the “current, old-fashioned set-up” of people collecting from stores or post offices — “needs automation and will be automated with APMs”.

The group’s goal is to capture at least half the total market in Poland. “It will be a long journey to have a big share of the out-of-home market in other geographies [but] our ambition is always to get to the best-in-class model we have created in Poland,” he said.

InPost’s position in Poland has been built up substantially under Advent, which will retain at least a 40 per cent stake in the business. Since 2017, its web of APMs in Poland has more than quadrupled to 10,776 and it plans to roll out up to 5,000 more this year.

Net profit jumped sharply during the pandemic from 50.8m zlotys (€11.2m) in 2019 to 208.7m zlotys (€45.9m) in the first nine months of 2020.

One of the main challenges now will be to diversify its business, both at home and abroad. In the first nine months of 2020, 99.4 per cent of InPost’s revenues came from Poland. Almost half came from sales made through Allegro, the dominant Polish ecommerce website, which last year became the country’s largest listed company after launching on the Warsaw stock exchange in the country’s biggest ever IPO.

Column chart of Number (000) showing Pandemic boosts demand for InPost

“There is a high concentration of revenues,” said Konrad Ksiezopolski, head of CEE equity research at Haitong Bank in Warsaw. “The brutal truth is that Allegro dominates the Polish ecommerce market, so that structure of revenues . . . comes from the structure of the market.”

Adam Aleksandrowicz, InPost’s chief financial officer, said that the high share of sales coming from Allegro cut both ways, pointing out that 70 per cent of Allegro’s “last mile” volumes were delivered via InPost. “You might turn the question around and say: how dependent are Allegro on us?” he said.

Still, in an effort to defray the risks associated with having one big client, InPost last year signed a deal with Allegro that commits the ecommerce site to supplying InPost with a minimum parcel volume for at least four and a half years. It has also sought to build ties with other ecommerce groups, and expects to start catering for products sold via Amazon later this year.

Foreign expansion will bring further diversification. Mr Brzoska said that InPost would add 2,000 APMs in the UK this year — currently its main overseas market — to almost treble its network there.

The group also intends to expand into Italy, France and Spain, three of Europe’s biggest ecommerce markets, which he described as “almost white space” and thus offered favourable conditions for InPost to enter.

Even as it expands abroad, however, InPost is facing greater challenges on its home turf. Amazon said on Wednesday that it would launch a Polish website and speculation is rife that it and other ecommerce groups, such as Allegro, AliExpress and postal group Poczta Polska, could set up locker networks of their own.

“Currently, none of these players is a threat to InPost. The problem for the company will be when the combined infrastructure of the competitors begins to match that created by InPost,” said Karol Tokarczyk, digital economy analyst at Polityka Insight in Warsaw. “[Then] the quality of service and the pace of parcel delivery will also be important.”

Despite the resources that groups such as Amazon could mobilise, Mr Brzoska insisted that the US giant’s entry into the Polish market did not have to spell trouble for InPost.

“Once [Amazon] start promoting their own APMs, the advocacy for APMs will increase massively,” he said. “[And] the rest of the market, the non-Amazon-related market, will start searching for an agnostic solution: and here we are.”