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Stuart O'Brien

BRC: ‘Britain stands on a knife edge’

Retail leaders have been digesting the implications of the UK’s ongoing Brexit crisis in light of last week’s vote by Parliament to extend Article 50.

Helen Dickinson OBE, Chief Executive of the British Retail Consortium, said:
“[The] vote offers a glimmer of hope, but it is now absolutely essential that MPs put aside their differences and coalesce around a positive route forward.

“Without definitive action by MPs in the next six days, we will see the UK crashing out of the EU on March 29th without a deal. This would inevitably lead to higher prices and less choice on the shelves for consumers. The uncertainty surrounding a no deal Brexit is already harming the UK economy.

“Britain stands on a knife edge. Parliament must put an end to this uncertainty.”

The BRC chief exec also issues a statement following the government’s announcement of the ‘no-deal’ tariff schedule.

“At last businesses have some clarity about the tariff schedule they will face under a no deal Brexit. Already hundreds of ships are on their way to Britain and are only now discovering what tariffs they may face.

“Consumers look to be no better off as a result of a mix of tariffs and quotas on food and other products. We remain particularly concerned about tariffs on certain clothes and textiles – a good proportion of which consumers were getting tariff-free from countries like Italy and Turkey.

“However, it is the non-tariff barriers which will have the greatest impact on consumers. Tariffs, checks, and increased documentation requirements will all result in delays, higher prices, and reduced choice for consumers. This is an inevitable consequence of a no deal Brexit.”

“The announcement that there will be no enforcement of custom checks and tariffs moving across the Irish border presents the biggest risk. Without these checks and controls, and with essentially a different tariff schedule in operation, the system would be a goldmine for criminals seeking to take advantage of a no deal Brexit.”

“Parliament must find a way of taking no deal off the table or risk harming the people and businesses of Great Britain and Northern Ireland.”

Retail Week Awards recognise industry excellence

Primark CEO Paul Merchant has been crowned Retail Leader of the Year in front of 1,300 peers at the 24th annual Retail Week Awards.

Ann Summers CEO Jaqueline Gold picked up Retail Activist of the Year for her work with the government in championing gender equality, small businesses and for being a hugely vocal and inspirational advocate for women in business.

The Co-op was awarded the The Hermes Global Impact Award for The Co-op Way.

Retail Activist of the Year and The Hermes Global Impact Award were two new categories for Retail Week Awards 2019.

Julian Richer, founder of Richer Sounds, was also recognised with The AlixPartners Outstanding Contribution to Retail.

Retail Week executive editor George MacDonald said: “When choosing a winner for this award, we look for an ambassadorial contribution on behalf of the whole industry. Julian is a huge success story and one that epitomises all that is good about this sector. He is a very worthy winner.”

Picking up two Retail Week Awards to add to its trophy cabinet was Aldi, winning Best Grocer and The American Express Best Own-Brand Range for its Mamia baby product range.

One of the judges said: “With its Mamia range, Aldi has focused in on a market segment and nailed it. It’s created something pretty impressive in a very crowded landscape, against very stiff competition.”

British family-run jeweller Beaverbrooks also walked away with two awards, landing the coveted The Dell Technologies Best Place to Work and Community Retailer accolades.

Other winners on the night included Ocado Technology, awarded The Cognizant Digital Pioneer Award, John Lewis & Partners scooped DWF The PwC Best New Store for its experience-focused opening at Westfield White City in west London, and family-run The Entertainer was awarded The Valitor Best Retailer Under £250m.

Boxpark landed Retail Destination and The Hut Group picked up the award for International Growth Retailer.

MacDonald added: “There was a renewed sense of purpose among this year’s winners about what the sector should be doing for the community and for its customers and that is what set them apart: they are all aspiring to be more meaningful, they are striving for good.

“It’s no secret that it has been a challenging year for the retail industry, which makes the incredibly high standard of nominees and winners at this year’s awards even more impressive.

“Thank you to our hard-working and diligent panel of judges for helping to highlight the gold standard of talent transforming the sector, both within established retailers and innovative start-ups. Each year the caliber of inspirational stories exceeds expectations.”

The judges at the Retail Week Awards 2019 are listed here.

Online retail set for Digital Service Tax

A promise has been made by Jake Berry, the parliamentary under-secretary of state for housing, communities and local government, to extend the Digital Services Tax to include a 2% charge on online retail.

Answering questions on the Future High Streets Fund in the House of Commons last week, Berry pledged that the government would bring forward its own 2% tax on online retail announced at the last Budget, if an international agreement on the issue couldn’t be reached.

“The government have been clear that online taxation in retail needs to be done as part of an international agreement, but we have also been clear that, if we cannot get such an agreement, we will come forward with our own 2% tax on online retail to ensure that we can continue, as we did in the last Budget, to give relief to those retailing on our high streets,” sad Berry.

The announcement comes just after a month after the publication of a report which called for an online tax to “level the playing field” for high street retailers by the Housing, Communities and Local Government Committee. 

During the autumn Budget, Philip Hammond proposed plans for a Digital Services Tax, effectively known as the ‘Amazon Tax,’ revealing to some extent the grip the etail giant has on the UK’s retail sector.

However, Lib Deg MP Tim Farron described the tax as “puny” and that it was “an insult to shops on the high street.” Farron also added that the Lib Dems would “support higher taxes on tax-dodgers.”

There’s a place with your name on it at the eTailing Summit

We have a free VIP place reserved for you at this summer’s eTailing Summit on July 9th.

This unique event takes place at the Hilton Tower Bridge, London – simply register here to secure your free place.

The Summit will give you access to innovative and budget-saving suppliers for a series of pre-arranged, face-to-face meetings based on your requirements. You can also attend a series of seminars, and network with like-minded peers.

Plus lunch and refreshments are included.

Register today and join ecommerce leaders from the likes of Borough Kitchen, Enotria & Coe, L’Oreal/Lancome, Lombok, Nisbets, Scout Store, SiS (Science in Sport), Walls & Floors and many more.

Or contact Katie Bullot on 01992 374049 / k.bullot@forumevents.co.uk for more information.

Alternatively, if you’re an eCommerce solutions provider and would like to showcase your products and services at the eTailing Summit, contact Craig Ross on 01992 666726 or email c.ross@forumevents.co.uk.

GUEST BLOG: Innovative thinking will lead to happier times in retail

By Tridip Saha, Head of Business Europe, Sonata Software

UK retail continues to endure turbulent times.  Last year witnessed a litany of store closures on the high street.

Traditional retailers have been criticised for not adapting to change, failing to meet customer expectations and not moving quickly enough with digital developments.  Online channels are perceived as more convenient and competitive and are favoured by a growing population of shoppers. 

Retailers stand on the brink and must acknowledge the challenges ahead.  Otherwise, with more risk comes the threat of closure. The industry has undergone a sea change and past measures such as, cost-reduction exercises will not reverse fortunes; merely acting as sticking plasters to mask the problems for another day.

To remain competitive retailers, particularly small to mid-sized ones, need a radical rethink on how they can reach and interact with new customers while delivering a unique, memorable and ultimately, satisfying shopping experience to encourage shoppers to part with their cash.  With limited sums for investment, innovative thinking and the creative use of technology could provide the stimulus for growth.

More innovation is required in the acquisition of customers.  The Internet and e-Commerce have enabled millions of businesses to reach customers anywhere in the world.  Understanding and adapting to their wants demands a more personalized shopping experience, and that could mean innovations such as enabling a shopper to build their own product who could customise every minute detail.

Eyewear retailers and eye health providers could let customers choose lenses and frames then order and have them delivered to any part of the world. 

The business of fashion is also changing with technology.  Fashion brands have been experimenting with the idea of digitally designing garments.  Designs are accessible from a digital library that are downloaded and printed off which can be made by following a tutorial.  The garment can be digitally manipulated, changing colour, fabric choice, accessory details etc – personalising the final product.  Doing this digitally means avoiding dead stock and over-production.  While this is happening with manufacturing today, imagine the potential if customers were given the power to create their own designs.  Downloading a suit design, sending it to a 3D printer then wearing it by the evening is not as far-fetched as it may sound. 

Shopping anytime, anywhere has been a mantra in retail for years.  Artificial intelligence, analytics, robot vision will help retailers, with the deepest pockets, better predict sales, improve visibility of stock and shorten delivery times.  Smaller retailers will need to be more inventive with their tech investments. AI and chatbots could curiously become the way we talk with some retailers.  It is no secret that a lot of millennials prefer to type than talk and are more comfortable interacting with Companies through a screen than on the phone.  Traditional ways of marketing and selling to customers are becoming increasingly difficult. People don’t really answer their phones to sales calls and aren’t always receptive to outbound messaging and marketing.  AI and chatbots could find their way onto WhatsApp, Facebook Messenger and Viber on our phones and have a ‘general’ dialogue about our orders, which would be like any other conversation.

Chatbots have the potential to save huge dollars in customer support manhours by filtering out some of the lower-level issues. Sonata is working with one of its clients for implementing chatbots as the first level of customer support which can be seamlessly transferred to a real agent in case of complex requests.

In-home and delivery services will prosper to rid us of the ‘necessary but dull’ shopping that we all have to do.  Commodity purchases such as, household day-to-day items i.e. toilet paper, washing up liquid, etc are already being affected by subscription businesses like Amazon or Tesco’s with auto-renewals, same-day/hour delivery and one-click ordering.  Independent stores with the right kind of technology or platform could also join the party.  

Cross-channel fulfilment can be challenge if you have disparate systems so a unified commerce platform enables frictionless fulfilment.  With a single view of inventory customers can either do Click & Collect or order online and returns in store and you can deliver through independent stores and much more. 

Digital ecosystems help businesses build connections between people, departments, organisations, partners, adjacent industries – and even the competition. Ecosystems are already helping retailers get closer to customers.  An interconnected platform can gather and analyse huge amounts of data generated by an ecosystem to enable more intelligent transactions and decisions to be made i.e. customer and vendor reviews, personalised recommendations, offers and predictive supply.  As a retailer you can either create your own ecosystem with someone else’s help or hop onto an existing one that boosts what you have to offer.  And it might also pave the way for new and unexpected business opportunities

Despite the doom and gloom, retailers have a fantastic opportunity to evolve through being innovative and creative with the technology on offer.  Happier times lie ahead for those willing to take the risk and ensure a frictionless retailing process through digital-ready operations.

About the Author
Tridip Saha is an experienced business leader in the IT services industry with a passion to partner enterprises in applying technology to deliver business outcomes. He has held consulting & sales leadership positions with leading IT service providers in driving business growth and delivering transformations with clients across industries such as Retail, CPG, Travel, Technology & Financial Services globally. 

Do you specialise in Conversion Rate Optimisation? We want to hear from you!

Each month on Retail Briefing we’re shining the spotlight on different parts of the retail and eCommerce markets – in April we’ll be focussing on Conversion Rate Optimisation.

It’s all part of our new ‘Recommended’ editorial feature, designed to help retail and eCommerce buyers find the best products and services available today.

So, if you’re a supplier of Conversion Rate Optimisation solutions and would like to be included as part of this exciting new shop window, we’d love to hear from you – for more info, contact Courtney Saggers on c.saggers@forumevents.co.uk.

Here are the areas we’ll be covering, month by month:

Apr – Conversion Rate Optimisation
May – Affiliate Marketing
Jun – User Experience
Jul – Complete Shopfitting
Aug – Lighting
Sep – Display Cases & Digital Signage
Oct – Retail Design
Nov – Window Displays
Dec – Digital Signage

For more information on any of the above, contact Courtney Saggers on c.saggers@forumevents.co.uk.

UK Consumer Confidence: ‘Stoic amid fear of the unknown’

New data from GfK indicates that consumer confidence rose in February despite huge unknowns over Brexit.

The research outfit says its Overall Index Score in February 2019 was -13 as three key measures increased and two stayed at the same level – to the surprise of its analysts.

The UK Consumer Confidence Barometer is conducted by GfK on behalf of the EU, with similar surveys being conducted in each European country.

Personal Financial Situation

The index measuring changes in personal finances during the last 12 months stayed the same in February at 0; this is also the same as this time last year.

The forecast for personal finances over the next 12 months stayed the same at +1; this is four points lower than February 2018.

General Economic Situation

The measure for the general economic situation of the country during the last 12 months increased two points to -33; this is four points lower than February 2018. 

Expectations for the general economic situation over the next 12 months increased one point to -38; this is 12 points lower than February 2018.  

Major Purchase Index

The major purchase index increased three points in February 2019 to +5; this is five points higher than February 2018.    

Savings Index

The savings index has increased four points in February to +18; this is six points higher than at this time last year.

To download the full set of charts for the GfK Consumer Confidence Barometer UK – February 2019 click here.

Joe Staton, Client Strategy Director at GfK, said: “Despite a slowdown in overall growth and concerns about the impact of Brexit uncertainty on the UK economy, topline consumer confidence is stable again this month. 

“Although bumping along in negative territory, the Overall Index Score is not showing any sign of making the dramatic drop seen after the June 2016 Brexit Referendum or in the early days of the last financial downturn. 

“While the view on personal finances looking at the year to come is still marginally positive, the continuing depressed sentiment towards the general economic situation might point towards the calm before the storm of post-Brexit headwinds and potential negative economic outcomes. 

“Are we on the edge of some kind of economic or livelihood precipice? Consumers are like markets, they respond to certainty and that’s in short supply just now. It is worth bearing in mind that many economic indicators (employment levels, wage growth) remain positive. But it is frankly amazing that confidence is so stoic and stable in a world of sharp political instability and fear of the unknown.”

Plans aims to secure long-term future of Oxford Street

Plans have been announced by Westminster City Council’s Cabinet to remodel the entire Oxford Street District to secure its long-term future as a retail and commercial hub.

The draft Place Strategy promoted a set of 15 overarching place-based principles and 96 projects to help deliver the ambition for the district.

The Council has already set aside £150m of funds from its capital budget to kickstart world class improvements throughout the area.

The Place Strategy was subject to public consultation from 6th November 2018 to 13th December 2018 and the analysis of the responses has been shared with the Cabinet in order to inform a decision about what will happen next, with headlines of the consultation as follows: 

  •   There were a total of 2,154 completed consultation responses
  •   66% of overall respondents said they supported the Place Strategy principles
  •   73% of resident respondents said they supported the Place Strategy principles
  •   The majority of stakeholders (resident and business groups) responded positively to the strategy

As a result, the Cabinet is being asked to acknowledge the results of the public consultation and to approve the updates to the Place Strategy and Delivery Plan as a result of the feedback. The most frequent comments provided via the consultation survey were:

  •   Support for the district wide approach
  •   Support for effective traffic management and for the strategy to strengthen related proposals
  •   Support for initiatives that would improve air quality and for the strategy to be stronger on this issue
  •   Support for the Marble Arch proposals to be more ambitious
  •   Requests for more detail related to design / traffic management overall and in key locations
  •  Concerns raised regarding management of the district and requests for more work to be done

As a result, the following changes have been made to the draft strategy:

  •   The principles have been revised and presented to emphasise that all are equally important
  •   Further information has been added to the elements section, particularly improving air quality

Cllr Richard Beddoe, Cabinet Member for Place Shaping and Planning, said: “As proud custodians of the Oxford Street District, the council is determined to make sure it retains the crown as the nation’s high street in the face of huge challenges and online competition.

“We’ve carefully looked at every response received and made changes to the strategy as a result. We’ve always said that we will listen carefully to those who live, work, visit or have a business in the district so we develop the best scheme that will future proof this vital and iconic part of Westminster and the West End.

“Whilst there’s broad support for our approach, we will keep the dialogue and discussions going through any future technical stages required to deliver our ambitious strategy.”

Shop price inflation at highest for six years

For the first time in almost six years the price of non-food goods has risen, albeit slowly, as cost pressures which had been building in the supply chain over the past few years fed through into prices.

According to the latest figures from Nielsen and the British Retail Consortium (BRC), this adds to gradual ongoing rises in food prices, resulting in the highest overall shop price inflation since March 2013.

Among the key data points are:

  • Shop Price inflation accelerated in February to 0.7%, up from 0.4% in January. This is the highest inflation rate since March 2013.
  • Non-Food prices rose by 0.2% year on year in February compared to the January decrease of -0.2%. This is the first time that Non-Food have been inflationary since March 2013.
  • Food inflation inched up slightly in February to 1.6%, up from 1.5% in January.
  • Fresh Food inflation accelerated to 1.7% in February, up from 1.2% in January. This is the highest rate since January 2018.
  • Ambient Food inflation eased in February to 1.5%, down from 1.9% in January. This is the lowest inflation rate since May 2018.

The key driver of the upward movement in year on year Shop Price Inflation in February was Non-Food, while Food price inflation overall was broadly stable.

In its commentary, the BRC points out February is usually a month when Non-Food retailers introduce new products at full price, after a January of clearing stock and deep discounting. Therefore, it’s no surprise that Non-Food prices are higher month on month.

In contrast, Non-Food prices are higher year on year for the first time in six years. This, the BRC says, reflects the ongoing slow release of significant cost pressures which have built up in the supply chain over the last two years, notably from the currency depreciation in 2016 and the rise in oil prices last year.

However, Non-Food prices remain below levels seen in 2016. And, given weak discretionary spending and intense competition, it is likely that heavy discounting will be back.

Mike Watkins, Head of Retailer and Business Insight at Nielsen, said: “Whilst shop prices have moved upwards slightly in February, economic growth is slowing and there is still weak retail growth. So, for as long as shoppers continue to be cautious, it will be difficult for the industry to pass on in full any cost price increases coming through the supply chain, particularly as around half of households are still reluctant to spend and many have concerns about the economy. Retailers will need to simplify the shopper experience, improve customer engagement and deliver good value for money to encourage shoppers to spend.”

Are you ready for the eTailing Summit?

L’Oreal, Borough Kitchen and Nisbets are just some of the brands that have reserved their places at the eTailing Summit.

The UK’s leading eCommerce event takes place on July 9th at the Hilton Tower Bridge, London.

In addition to a full day of business networking, you will get the latest insights and advice on trends in the sector via a series of seminar session.

Lunch and refreshments is complimentary.

Register today and join ecommerce leaders from the likes of Borough Kitchen, Enotria & Coe, L’Oreal/Lancome, Lombok, Nisbets, Scout Store, SiS (Science in Sport), Walls & Floors and many more.

We have just 60 places available so register today.

Or contact Katie Bullot on 01992 374049 / k.bullot@forumevents.co.uk for more information.

Alternatively, if you’re an eCommerce solutions provider and would like to showcase your products and services at the eTailing Summit, contact Craig Ross on 01992 666726 or email c.ross@forumevents.co.uk.