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Brexit: What the retail industry is thinking

With mere days until the EU referendum, the polls suggest a close race to the finish line. One poll of independent retail and hospitality businesses in the UK, resulted in a slim majority choosing to remain in the EU. The poll from retail technology company, Epos Now, revealed 48% of the 500 organisations surveyed will vote to stay, 45% to leave, with 7% still undecided. 

Essential Retail has spoken to key figures in the retail industry. Here is what they have to say.

Jim Buckle, COO, FeelUnique

Buckle said a UK exit from the EU would create uncertainty for businesses which imports into the EU from the UK.

"We relocated our warehouse from Jersey to the UK during 2015, partly in order to distribute to customers from within the EU," he said. "In Jersey, we were outside the EU and as a result customers often experienced import issues and extra charges.”

Philip Bier, UK managing director, Tiger

Bier has an intriguing viewpoint when it comes to whether the UK should remain as part of the EU. As a Danish citizen living in Britain for 30 years but without dual nationality he does not have a vote. But his wife and children are British, and the company he runs seemingly benefits considerably from being part of the EU.

Bier added: "Tiger has great benefit of Europeans wanting to come and work in our shops. I think 26% of our staff are European or EU citizens – a significant part – right across from area managers, to store managers to sales assistants."

Reflecting on the freedom of movement aspect that comes with the UK being an EU member, he said: "It would be a disaster for Britain if that doesn't remain."

Antony Comyns, head of eCommerce, Hawes & Curtis

"I really don’t know, but one of the things I think about, is there are so many countries reliant on exporting into the UK, we must be in a good position to negotiating new deals if we exit," said Hawes & Curtis' head of eCommerce, Antony Comyns. "The US export so much into the UK, will they give that up? I just can’t believe it."

Comyns believes some of the laws and regulations around trade may be a little bit easier. "Especially around the use of data," he added. "But we’re going to have to make sure we're very careful with countries like Germany who are so strict on their data laws to protect consumers."

Tony Page, CEO, The Original Factory Shop

"No one knows – clearly there is uncertainty right now and I'll be pleased when it's over," he told Essential Retail. "During last year's general election, I was thinking the same thing that uncertainty isn't good and this is a bit more uncertain. Quite frankly, there are so many people who really don't know what would happen if the vote went either way."

Stuart Rivett, managing director, B2C Europe

"When it comes to the Brexit, the one word I continually hear from British online retailers trading internationally is the 'unknown'. Yes, there is always a concern of the 'unknown', but, should the UK leave the EU, I think it is unlikely that we will see a huge amount of change when it comes to trade within Europe," said Stuart Rivett, managing director, B2C Europe.

"A huge amount of UK retailers have already established themselves across Europe and have a solid customer base. The effects of the UK leaving the EU, if any, will more than likely be slightly longer waiting times when it comes to cross border delivery and higher costs due to customs charges."

Gracia Amico, CEO of Pets Pyjamas

But for her business – which sells pets accessories and pet-friendly holidays online – a UK exit could potentially have a knock-on positive effect. "The predicted staycation growth is as much as 50% this year, which is great news for us as the majority of our business is in the UK. As for knowing what the impact would be if we left the EU, I am not sure anyone knows exactly if or what the impact would be.”

Lorna Beaument, marketplace manager, The Dune Group

But marketplace manager at Dune, Lorna Beaument said at RBTE 2016 she would be probably be out of a job if the UK decides to leave Europe, because her role is so intrinsically tied with trading internationally.

Nir Debbi, CMO and co-founder of Global-e

Nir Debbi, CMO and co-founder of Global-e, noted how the landscape for British retail is very uncertain at the moment.

"Cross-border commerce is driven by consumers looking for more choice online. Our findings show that even if the British public chooses to leave the EU, retailers are confident that the positive upward trend will continue," he said. "The important thing for retailers today, is therefore to prepare their operations in the short term to tackle the complexities that may incur due to the Brexit decision and the potential trade agreements changes, and continue long term plans to take advantage of rapid growth in cross-border eCommerce."

Debbi continued: "Our research shows that although the majority of retailers believe that a Brexit will result in a weaker economy (including weaker pound sterling Vs. euro), they aren’t making preparations to tackle the cross-border selling complexity that almost 40% of them believe will incur following it. The EU remains a huge sales opportunity, with cross-border sales in Europe set to hit €40 billion by 2018 according to Forrester. With the right preparation for both scenarios, technology and processes in place, retailers can continue to see sales grow and conversion rates improve whether the UK is in or out of the European Union."

Andrew Robb, COO, Farfetch

Farfetch’s COO, Andrew Robb, believes his business will be negatively affected by a UK exit from Europe. "But the tough part is that there is so much uncertainty on what will happen which makes it hard to predict how much. Cross border trade will surely be impacted in some way though and I can’t see it being positive."

Philip Rooke, CEO, Spreadshirt

T-shirt printing and personalisation retailer, Spreadshirt, believes leaving the EU would mean the UK would be at a competitive disadvantage against the brands growing in the large markets of the US or Europe.

CEO Philip Rooke told Essential Retail: “As a British man, running an international eCommerce company, I sit here in Berlin thinking a Brexit would be crazy!

“The EU is a huge market on the UK’s doorstep and although the British appreciate the trading opportunities, the size of the market doesn’t get enough recognition. The EU is now Britain's largest trading partner, with over 51% of British exports of goods currently destined for its European partners . For e-retailers that is only a bit of translation and click away.”

Simon Black, CEO at PPRO Group

CEO of the leader in cross-border e-payments, PPRO Group, Simon Black, said: "From small family run businesses to large multinational conglomerates, commerce resides in an increasingly global marketplace. Research reveals that by 2020 some 40.6% of all British eCommerce revenue will come from sales outside of its borders. Europe itself is expected to account for £16.7 billion of all eCommerce revenue for British businesses by the end of the decade.

"If the Brexit was to go ahead, the viability of continuing our leadership in cross border eCommerce would be under severe threat, impacting the very livelihoods of digitally-minded British businesses."

Lawrence Jones, CEO at UKFast

UKFast's CEO, Lawrence Jones, believes it would be crazy for the UK to turn its back on the EU.

He said: "The digital economy is opening up more opportunity for trade with our neighbours. Thousands of new online businesses are springing up every year, and new technologies and services make it easier than ever to reach markets in Europe. We should take advantage of the incredible relationships we have and be proud of the club that we are in.

"It’s ludicrous to suggest we would get better deals negotiating trade deals on our own. We’re part of a great club in Europe and we have power in numbers. It’s also a huge distraction.

"I’m holding off on a hugely exciting deal on the continent to expand our network. While this uncertainty hangs over Europe we have to think twice about our growth plans, and that would only continue if the country votes to leave the EU.

"Europe is a much bigger place than the UK, it already gives us 57% of trade. British businesses wanting to expand and make a huge difference to the economy know there are limited people to sell to in the UK.

"It’s important for the EU to hold our government accountable, whether Labour or Conservative. EU rulings have introduced equal pay legislation, holiday entitlement, the right not to work more than a 48-hour week; not to mention greater investment in clean air, clean beaches and clean energy. I don’t see how people can have a problem with that."

Eamon Fitzgerald, managing director, Naked Wines

"I'm sure currency will take a hit, which is probably a short-term thing," noted Eamon Fitzgerald, managing director of Naked Wines. "And if they introduce tariffs on wine imported from the EU, well, we already pay tariffs on wine from outside the EU, so we'll take the hit – if it happens it happens, we can't really control it. The main thing is if it happens we will continue giving our customers the best prices and the best wines and don't let anything else external get in the way of that."


Sach Kukadia, co-founder of Secret Sales

"We're a business which trades with Europe and have partners, on that basis we'd like to stay in," Secret Sales' co-founder Sach Kukadia told Essential Retail. "Obviously we're quite proud of being British as well. But as a business owner in Europe, I think we'd want to stay in."

Angus Thirlwell, CEO and co-founder of Hotel Chocolat

Meanwhile, Angus Thirlwell, CEO and co-founder of Hotel Chocolat, told Essential Retail, it is not for business leaders to force their opinion on the UK population.

"Whatever the British public think is the right thing to do will become the right thing," he said.

"As a business we're resilient, we're mostly Britain-based and as long as the economy is sound everything else works for us. It's a case of listening to the arguments and everyone making the right conscious call."