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EDITORIAL International ecommerce: the key to UK retail growth?

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Weak consumer spending in the UK is becoming something of a norm right now. With who knows what about to happen with Brexit, people are holding on to their money and retail is suffering.

But, while problems with ‘overseas’ – albeit only just across the Channel and our relationship with the EU – are in many parts the root of retail’s woes, looking abroad is also going to be its saviour.

Growth has to come from somewhere and, while the domestic UK market is likely to be weak for some time to come, regardless of what happens on 31 October, retailers need to find new ways to make money and to generate growth.

That is going to come from abroad – but let’s not get bogged down with Europe, let’s start thinking more broadly than that. The US is likely to open up to be a market that many UK retailer can sell brand Britain to with ease – especially if Donald Trump makes good on his promise and grants his mini-me, Boris, a trade deal.

We might get chlorinated chicken, but American’s will be able to satisfy that pent up demand for all things English – they may even yet get a taste for Melton Mowbray Pork Pies.

But the US is just one part of the large world pie that is there for the eating. Asia is also very keen on all things British. China and beyond is seeing an explosion in middle class disposable income at the same time as it is getting a yen for all ye olde worldetropes of fictious Albion of Yore – much like Nigel Farrage and UKIP, only with open minds and money to spend.

These groups are going to be the bedrock of what drives UK retail growth, at least in the next five years while our domestic market stagnates.

According to research by Rakuten Marketing, 58% of international shoppers want to shop globally, with 99% of Singaporeans having done so regularly. Even 48% of Brits have too – probably the more open minded ones.

This shows what an international business ecommerce is and it is that that is going help save UK retailers – well, those that are willing to look overseas.

Just look at York’s finest fish and chip shop, Scotts. It has invested in the latest payment technology to tap into the burgeoning market for Chinese tourists wanting cod and chips. This comes mere months after a cabal of retailers in London’s Beauchamp Placejoined forced to make their street an Alipay hot spot.

This kind of thinking is exactly what retailers need to be doing to grow. Ecommerce is maturing and it is maturing globally – and while that sees some retailers out of pocket as they can’t keep up and can’t compete, for those that embrace the technology and what it can achieve, it is going to be the much needed lifeline. Ironic really: insularity feed Brexit, which feeds retail apocalypse, which can be averted by looking overseas. What a crazy – but ecommerce-friendly – world we live in.

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