UK ecommerce and multichannel retailers and commerce technology companies are starting to see opportunities in the disruption that has come following last week’s vote by Britain to leave the European Union.
At the same time, European retailers attending this week’s InternetRetailing Europe Summit in Berlin, were divided between those who were shocked and those who thought the UK decision would make little difference.
In the UK Seb James, chief executive of Dixons Carphone , which operates IRUK Top500 Leading retail brand Currys and believes there will be an upside to the decision, despite the uncertainty and the volatility in both markets and sterling that it has brought.
“The nation has spoken and there has been a vote to exit the EU in due course,” he said as he delivered full-year results this week. “As you can imagine we have been giving some thought to this. Our view is that, as the strongest player in our market and despite the volatility that is the inevitable consequence of such change, we expect to find opportunities for additional growth and further consolidate our position as the leader in the UK market.”
Speaking at the Summit in Berlin this week, Gareth Rees-Jones, global digital director of Topman told InternetRetailing: “It’s a disruptive time but I’m hopeful that great opportunities will come out of that. In times of disruption, great leaders emerge.”
One British luxury retail brand told InternetRetailing at the Summit that it instantly saw the effect of the drop in sterling. Sales over the three days following the referendum increased by 8% as customers in other countries rushed to make the most of the ‘lower’ prices of British goods.
Matt Bird, founder of start-up menswear retailer We Are Gntlmen, said the lack of stability and the uncertainty were worrying. But, he said, “as a small business I’m agile enough to respond and adapt accordingly. Whatever barriers get put in the way we’ll be able to respond. There’s definitely opportunity there, it’s about finding it, identifying it.”
For Daniel Murray, co-founder and head of mobile at London-based mobile commerce business Grabble, the opportunity may even prove to be one worth moving the business to Berlin. While from a personal point of view he saw the news as a “disaster”, he said: “We totally would consider relocating our business from London. I don’t want to move from London but I would move for the opportunity and Berlin is as good as anywhere, with good talent and low costs.”
That said, he added: “There are tax benefits to investing in UK companies that make it one of the most tax-efficient places to invest, and Brexit hasn’t changed that.”
Patrick Wall, chief executive of delivery management software business MetaPack , went further, suggesting that ecommerce could flourish in Britain and Europe, where exports from the UK are already strong. “With an equivalent level of ecommerce imports and two-day delivery from one end of Europe to the other, consumers are enjoying variety, value for money and convenience. Future trade agreements need to protect these consumer rights across Europe.
“At first glance it might be thought that cross-border ecommerce is at the mercy of forthcoming complex trade negotiations, but this need not be the case. Moving forward we need to work together collectively to protect consumers’ access to an open European ecmmerce market. At MetaPack we are fully committed to ensuring that this happens.”
The company has produced a white paper looking at the effect different negotiated exits from Europe could have.
Meanwhile, European retailers attending this week’s Summit spoke of disappointment at the news.
One Berlin-based retailer said they were shocked at the move, coming as it does at a time when there are so many other problems elsewhere in the world.
Another, Steven Mattwig, head of ecommerce at menswear business Tom Tailor, said that while the company doesn’t currently sell online to the UK “we had plans”. He said selling in the UK “was so easy” but he thought that would now change. “There are so many challenges in selling internationally. Now one of the big markets is dropping out [of the European Union] and things will become more complicated. If selling to the UK becomes as complicated as it is to sell to Switzerland, well that’s the reason we don’t sell to Switzerland.”
But Okke Amerongen, ecommerce lead at Dutch childrenswear company Kleertjes, said he thought it wouldn’t make much difference. “When I sell in Germany, the rules are different. There are different rules, different VAT – Europe is a complete mess, and now Brexit. I get the feeling it’s like the Millennium Bug – it’s not an issue. The real issue will be if France or the Netherlands leaves because that will end the EU.”