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GUEST ANALYSIS Using Brexit as a lever to develop online exports

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June’s UK referendum result took many by surprise and opened a period of uncertainty for businesses across the country. With the British Retail Consortium reporting a 2.8% fall in footfall on the high street and polls suggesting the lowest UK consumer confidence since 1990, sectors may find the current environment challenging. In spite of this, there is still clear evidence of great opportunities for growth.

Already, it is reported that areas of the UK are experiencing a post-Brexit ‘boom’ as tourist spending increases, whilst luxury retailers are also experiencing a boost. Some internet retailers are also seeing a rise in demand due to the falling value of the pound sparking increased sales from abroad, illustrating that careful, strategic thinking can enable businesses to reap benefits from the current changes and make their mark overseas.

The IMRG Capgemini eRetail Sales Index for June reports that online sales are up 16.5% on the same period in 2015. With this in mind, I spoke with two independent retailers successfully selling abroad to get their tips.

Research new markets thoroughly

Jane Malyon, founder of the English Cream Tea Company, suggests speaking to UK Trade & Investment, a government body that provides advice and information about selling abroad, and conducting research into new markets. Since taking on international exporting, English Cream Tea products have been delivered to locations as far afield as the US, Australia and Japan.

“My advice is not to try a scattergun approach targeting 30 countries, but do your research and pick the top few. Look at things like exchange rate, social media engagement and demand for your product inside the country,” says Malyon.

Go there in person

Make sure any cultural matters are clearly understood, and don’t try to impose values, systems, or preferences abroad. Online sellers wanting to attract local customers need to behave like local businesses. Playdale Playgrounds target six new countries a year and spend time in each country, meeting a range of key entities appropriate to their business including leisure operators, school head teachers and safety standards committees.

Owners, John and Gillian Croasdale advise: “You have to be prepared to go out to these countries, meet people and then go back and meet them. Also be prepared to make mistakes – both culturally and business-wise”.

Offer appropriate products

English Cream Tea Company knew they couldn’t send fresh produce to far flung countries. So they looked at offering gifts associated with afternoon tea, such as preserves and cake tins. The introduction of new product lines helped expand sales offers in the UK too.

Get the website right

Producing different language versions of websites is vital, and using professional services for development will pay dividends in creating a sleek website that stands out among the competition.

“This is especially important if you have a very ‘visual’ product – it’s how people buy online. Grey and grainy photos just won’t do” explains Malyon. The English Cream Tea Company hired a professional photographer and made new video content for its international launch.

Implement good payment options

A good payments service which can handle multiple currencies is essential. Getting this set up when you begin international selling will ensure a smooth launch and make expansion into further countries easier. Worldpay research conducted in 2015 found that taking payments online can increase turnover by 40%.

Playdale Playgrounds’ John Coasdale said: “The financial side of exporting to foreign countries is very important, so make sure to protect yourself from currency swings. Also find a trusted partner in the payments space who can put secure, efficient payment methods in place before you get started.”

Get involved in social media

Research social media habits of target countries and invest accordingly. English Cream Tea Company has included among its social range a YouTube series, Twitter, Facebook and Pintrest.

As Malyon sums up, “This exposes you to a global audience for free. Social media is a great way of getting your brand out there. There are lots of things you can do with it. We’re producing a YouTube series on the ‘manners of afternoon tea’, and the latest video up there already has over 83,000 hits.”

Above all, see Brexit as an opportunity

For English Cream Tea Company, exploring markets abroad was a chance to develop sales offers at home as well as overseas. Likewise for Playdale Playgrounds, the move into exports came when UK businesses faced a slowdown of 35% domestically. The company went from exporting 5% of its products in 2011 to 25% in 2015, with plans of 75% by 2020/22. Its products are now exposed to 61% of the world’s population – up from under 1% in 2012.

Rather than standing still, when faced with uncertainty it’s imperative for businesses to continue looking for new possibilities for growth.

Thinking about Brexit as an opportunity might be a way to not only weather any short term insecurities, but to grow business for the long term. With some careful planning and strategic thinking, expanding online might be just the thing to see a business thrive in post-Brexit Britain.

James Frost is UK CMO at Worldpay.

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