Timing is everything. Retail – like all UK industries – is craving some clarity on Brexit, but calling a general election bang in the middle of peak is not what everyone was looking for. In fact, the timing probably couldn’t be worse.
The threat of leaving the EU, possibly without a deal, on 31 October had already given the industry the willies. That threat has passed, but throwing in an election in December is going to only add to the uncertainty and, whatever the outcome, leaves little time for spending to recover.
So are we looking at a doomsday scenario? InternetRetailing asked some of its friendly experts and found them all trembling at the thought – with the issue of an Election, Brexit generally and the timing around Peak selling all causing the jitters.
“Predicting the future of the UK retailers is a fool’s game, but one thing is certain -- holding general elections in December is a hard blow!” says Sandra Perriot, Senior Retail Strategist, at data-driven marketing agency Cheil. “The general election in the difficult context of Brexit will have a major impact on Holiday Season performances, that’s guaranteed. UK residents can be tempted to tighten the purse-strings in the wait of clarity on the future. And the time they will spend trying to understand the politic mascaraed is a time they will not spend online or offline for purchase inspiration.”
She continues: “Footfall on the high street will also be affected – not only for residents, who are unlikely to be in the Christmas shopping mindset, but also for visitors to the country. London, in particular, is a traditional Christmas destination, and with the social climate being extremely tense, it could scare tourists dwellers and high-street shoppers.”
Neil Kuschel, CEO Europe, Global-e, a leading cross-border ecommerce solutions provider, agrees. “The general election falls right in the middle of the peak trading period – a vital time in the year for retailers – and adds an additional layer of uncertainty to festive trading despite the agreed Brexit extension until 2020,” he says. “The lack of clarity over the UK’s future is arguably leading British consumers to take a cautious approach to spending.”
The election campaign is also going to have a massive impact on peak marketing in the run up to Christmas and, unless retailers can rethink their messaging they will just be ignored, or worse, become an annoyance.
“The coming election presents a communications challenge for retailers,” says Ivan Mazour, CEO and founder, Ometria. “While there are clear economic implications of economic and political uncertainty which may disrupt consumer spending patterns and even present logistical challenges, it’s important to also consider the psychological impact of attempting to communicate with customers, who will be simply overloaded.”
A recent study by Ometria found that, even outside of the holidays, 70% of shoppers regularly feel overwhelmed by marketing from retailers – and Christmas can be stressful at the best of times.
“Adding in an election, political messaging and advertising everywhere we look will only worsen the mental strain customers are under,” says Mazour. “Now more than ever retailers – who often significantly increase the amount of messages they send around key holiday dates – must make the choice to take a different tack; one that prioritises the customer experience over sending as many messages as possible in the hope something will stick.”
There is, however, some notes of optimism. According to Global-e’s Kuschel, “this does not automatically spell bad news as there are steps retailers can take to place focus on the opportunities within cross-border trading to meet and surpass sales and conversions targets,” he says.
Ometria’s Mazour also sees some hope, looking at how to message consumers around the pain they are in – tapping into what they are thinking and the campaign turmoil, rather than looking to just send out offers.
“When demanding time and attention from customers in this busy period, retailers need to ensure that their messages are relevant, helpful and responsive to customer behaviour and interests, rather than trying to contact a customer every day with every latest offer,” Mazour says. “Retailers will have targets to hit that do not account for the political turbulence of the day – but they must still make sure to account for the long-term experience of their customers. The best thing a retailer can do in this environment is to try and give customers their time back with personalised, smart marketing: not take it away when they already have too much competing for their attention.”
Global-e’s Kuschel concludes: “Whatever happens come December onwards, there is huge potential for UK retailers to grow their brand globally and continue selling to the EU by adjusting their online offering to offer a seamless, localised experience to EU consumers along with customers in other markets around the world. Localising the online experience to drive cross-border sales can open up new routes to revenue growth for retailers of all sizes during these challenging times.”