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INTERVIEW William Bain of BRC on forthcoming changes Brexit will bring to the retail sector

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William Bain, a policy adviser, Europe and international at BRC is chairing The live Brexit event-1 year to go on March 14. Ahead of the event, he spoke to InternetRetailing on the challenges retailers will face with the arrival of Brexit and how they should prepare now for the future, as he aptly put it “carry on in the sense as if there’s going to be a little shift but be ready for what this political process going to bring.”

IR: At BRC event The live Brexit debate-1 year to go you will be discussing the implications of the forthcoming withdrawal from the EU and practical advice for retailers on the way forward. Can you tell me about one challenge that is particularly important in this area? 

WB: I think the big challenge for the retailers is to set their supply chains and to work out which parts of their business will be impacted by the potentially changed custom system. I would also advise doing the requisite planning that will put retailers in a position to ensure that they don’t experience difficulties, particularly within boarding products after the expiry of the Brexit transitional period that the BRC has been calling for, once the UK leaves the EU next March (29th 2019).

The most significant stress-test is to get a custom system that keeps the free-flow of goods; frictionless trading goods flow because that’s what ultimately is beneficial for businesses and particularly for their consumers.

I think the consequences of going through this [Brexiting] process is reviewing what your needs are for staffing, back-of-store facilities, logistics, and distribution. It also consists of ensuring that companies have a sharp look through their businesses to see what they need going forward. I think that’s the one consequence [of the Brexit] having to get ready for the change that Brexit will represent, therefore I’d advice the companies to evaluate the areas that they’re strongest at and the ones that need an improvement in the next few years.

IR: What does Brexit mean for the retail industry? How will it affect retailers and their customers?

WB: Well, [Brexit] is one of the contributing factors that’s driving the change. However, there are other [factors] out there that will have a massive knock-on effect on the retail field such as automation, and the ever-changing shopping experience within the brick-and-mortar stores. If we look at the near future for the retail, we may see some fewer jobs in physical stores, but the challenge is to improve the productivity, skills, and rewards for people who are working in the fascinating [retail] industry.

[Brexit] is all about the change, and indeed, it is an evident change. However, some things are taking place right now in the [retail] field, which balances everything out and has an equal effect. The rise of online sales, automation and the growth of artificial intelligence (AI)- are all the decisive factors that will transform the retail experience over the next decade.

I think the best advice is to carry on in the sense as if there’s going to be a little shift but be ready for what this political process going to bring ; in terms of getting the goods in and out of the country, retailers must begin to plan transit and security arrangements as well as the implications for the VAT.

Retailers also need to consider some worst-case scenarios; what it would mean if there would be some delays to the movements of goods across the customs border where one wants to be established. Looking at all parts of the process of getting merchandise from one European country into the UK is a critical part. Also, it is a must to consider the issue with staffing, because logistics and distribution, in particular, are attractive for the 27 EU nationals, and if there is a different employment policy after the Brexit transition, then that will have implications for retailers’.

IR: In your view, what’s the most important upcoming trend Brexit will bring in multichannel/ecommerce that is set to change the way we shop and sell? 

WB: I think it’s happening at the same time as Brexit, but it’s not contingent on Brexit. There will be legislation in the European parliament that will affect traders who operate in the EU like the GDPR and the online platform legislation. However, many of our [BRC] companies have a strong relationship with the rest of the European Union so those partnerships will continue to strive.

I think these significant trends such as AI and automation are already effective the [retail] industry across the world, which I believe have moved online based on demands of the consumers. Consumers now want to receive their purchase as soon as they have ordered it on their smartphones, so it’s all about fast delivery. These are all the trends retailers have to adapt to. However, the industry is ever-adaptive to ever-changing customer behaviour, it has good leadership, and we’re [BRC] are very confident for its future.

The shape of the high street may change a little, but demand for quality goods at a reasonable price is undoubtedly going to be a driving force for innovations, which will be good for businesses as well.

IR: What are you most looking forward to at the BRC event?

WB: It’s going to be great to see so many people, over a hundred of leaders from a wide range of companies who employ so many people in our country and contribute hugely to the experience of being able to get the quality goods and services. Having so many people with a great perspective and experience in the same room at the same time is going to be the best highlight of the event.

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