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Brexit wrangling sows confusion among UK retailers

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While pundits debate winners and losers and speculate as to next moves following Great Britain’s latest Brexit vote on Tuesday, the UK’s retailers are left to wonder how they should position their businesses for the future.

Chris Field, of UK-based Retail Connections, says the uncertainty over Brexit is just one more challenge that retailers face at a time when succeeding in the industry requires unwavering focus.

In the brief video interview below, Field talks about how the ongoing drama surrounding the UK’s plan to leave the EU at the end of March is affecting the retail sector.
As Field indicated, the ramifications of Brexit and how the Brexit is accomplished touches many facets of a retail business, from supply chain, to tariffs, to employment to fulfillment. And beyond the fact that the Brexit could affect all those functions, the maddening fact for many retailers is that they have no idea how Brexit will affect those functions.

“How do you plan?” Field asked in our extended conversation at NRF’s Big Show earlier this month.”There is no question, that amongst all of the other tidal waves that are hitting retail in the UK at the moment, Brexit is certainly one of the strongest.”

Think about the inherent challenges in retail. We’re in a time when consumer expectations are scaling ever-higher. New entrants, the digitally native retailers, who build agile organizations buoyed by third-party tech stacks, are simultaneously showing legacy retailers the way to the future while eroding their market share. And, of course, there is ever-present Amazon.

Add to that the outside distraction of Brexit and you’ve got a real challenge on your hands.

“The problem is, it’s a distraction,” Field said. “And, as you know with retail, it’s the kind of business where you have to be concentrating all the time and looking at your numbers and looking at the operation and Brexit distracts people from that.”

Tuesday’s Parliamentary vote did little to change any of that. The March 29 deadline for Britain to leave the European Union, either with a negotiated agreement in place, or not, still looms.

What happens next remains incredibly unclear. The BBC published a story suggesting at least eight possible courses. Among them: Prime Minister Theresa May has expressed confidence that she can renegotiate a deal with the EU outlining the conditions under which Britain would leave the union. Presumably the new deal would be acceptable to Parliament.

Others have their doubts, meaning Britain could leave the UK without any agreement in place. A third course would be to take another popular vote on the Brexit question, but that would require legislation and couldn’t be completed before the March 29 deadline, the BBC says.

Meantime, the uncertainty continues.

Photo by Mike Cassidy

Mike Cassidy

Mike Cassidy

Mike is the head of storytelling at Signifyd. A former journalist and a retail geek, he covers ecommerce and the way technology is transforming digital commerce. Contact him at [email protected].