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Retailers uncertain in the face of Brexit and other future challenges

Most UK multichannel and ecommerce retailers say they are uncertain what effect Brexit will have on their businesses, while almost a third say they believe it will have a negative effect and only 4% are confident in the future.

WBR Digital interviewed 100 senior executives at major UK retailers, on behalf of VoucherCodes parent company RetailMeNot. The Changing Face of the Retail Experience study prioritised multichannel retailers – with respondent titles including head of digital and head of multichannel – and found that 65% were concerned about the unpredictability of the industry. Asked about Brexit, two-thirds were not sure what effect it would have, while 32% said the impact on multichannel retailers would be a negative one over the coming 12 months. Just four in 100 said they were confident about the future of British retail following the result of the EU referendum.

More than half predict increasing competition from overseas retailers in the coming year. They are particularly concerned about online-only players who they fear will work fast to take market share while sterling remains low.

Shopping habits are changing fast, and 69% of respondents said that within five years they would be utterly different from today. With that in mind, 49% see investment in the physical and digital shopping experience as a best practice, since a high-street retail presence is seen as a powerful brand differentiator. Practically all respondents (99%) said they will be investing in new technology in the year ahead. More than a quarter (26%) will invest in mobile commerce, while 31% plan to redesign their online presence. A fifth of retailers (19%) are planning to focus on bringing tech into the physical store, supplying shop floor staff with iPads to help advise customers, for example.

But 57% of retailers also felt they lacked sufficient knowledge of the technology required in order to stay ahead of the game, while a further 54% said they were concerned about falling behind in a fast-changing market. Most (90%) also say it’s impossible to predict what skills will be needed in the industry in five years’ time.

Paul Lewis, senior director of marketing at VoucherCodes said: “The watchword for the next 12 months or so is ‘uncertainty’. Retailers will obviously continue to keep one wary eye on the ongoing Brexit negotiations in Brussels, and another on the fluctuating pound. However, the UK retail market has strong foundations as one of the largest ecommerce markets in Europe so, whilst the future is indeed uncertain, it is important for businesses not to get caught up in this.

“No one can predict the direction the industry is heading post-Brexit, so retailers must future-proof their businesses by focusing on areas of investment and adaptability where customer demand is high.

“Smart retailers will be mindful of the changing industry whilst simultaneously focusing on the opportunities they can see on the horizon in order to keep up with customer demand – investing in new technology to revamp online platforms, as well as technology to invigorate physical stores, turning them into powerful brand differentiators in their own right.”

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