What does Brexit mean for UK SMEs looking to export to the continent?

With Brexit day fast-approaching, and no withdrawal agreement in sight, Marketing Director, SMB Online, Europe at Ingenico ePayments, Sangeetha Narasimhan, explains how UK businesses can still export to their European customers and thrive.

What does Brexit mean for UK SMEs looking to export to the continent?

With Brexit day fast-approaching, and no withdrawal agreement in sight, Marketing Director, SMB Online, Europe at Ingenico ePayments, Sangeetha Narasimhan, explains how UK businesses can still export to their European customers and thrive, whatever the future holds. 

In the latest development in the UK’s ongoing withdrawal from the European Union (EU), Boris Johnson, the former Foreign Secretary and Mayor of London, has been named the new UK prime minister[1].

Prime Minister Johnson’s appointment is not without controversy. His demand to the EU to remove the “Backstop”[2] – a mechanism to preserve the Good Friday Agreement by maintaining an invisible border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland – and his willingness to consider a No Deal Brexit[3] have divided Parliament.

And this uncertainty is rippling throughout the country, with 70% of businesses saying they either have no strategic business plan in place or don’t feel there is enough information in their sector to make an informed decision[4].

Growth plans, however, don’t need to be put on hold due to Brexit ambiguity.

Overcoming barriers

Newly released data insights from global payments company, Ingenico ePayments, has revealed, even though geopolitical uncertainty may make barriers to entry seem greater than ever, businesses have a huge opportunity to grow into new European regions – by harnessing both eCommerce and the growing power of global peak sales.

Describing the busiest shopping days in the European retail calendar – peak sales are periods when the majority of consumers open up their wallet to make purchases either in-store or online. These can be for international sales events, like Black Friday or Singles’ Day, major holidays, like Christmas or Easter, and international festivities, like Valentine’s Day, or for local celebrations, like Bastille Day in France, or Bank Holiday weekends in the UK. Merchants are also creating their own peak sales moments – think Amazon and Prime Day – while social media influencers are helping to spark sales spikes via their own product reviews.

The rise of peaks sales

Analysing trends from Black Friday transactions over the past three years, Ingenico’s research found that sales are still on the increase, driven in part by the rapid growth of cross-border transactions throughout the continent. From 2016-17, cross-border sales rose by 16%. Last year this figure surged by 70% when compared with sales in 2017.  Nearly half (44%) of total European sales were cross-border in 2018 – a healthy growth from 2016 which saw 23% of all transactions coming from international consumers.

The increase in cross-border sales is replicated on other peak sales days throughout the year. On Cyber Monday, for example, cross-border transactions in Europe increased by 71% between 2017 and 2018. The data represents the growing number of consumers who are using online peak sales days to find the best deals and right products across borders.

Most importantly, the research highlighted a particular opportunity for smaller merchants. Some 12% of UK consumers opted to shop only with small businesses or niche retailers instead of going to the online giants like Amazon, something that is increasingly being replicated across Europe.

Clearly, these peak sales moments – when traffic is high and consumers are on the lookout for new, unique offers – are an opportunity for smaller merchants in the UK and beyond to attract these international shoppers. Moreover, they could be the perfect way for UK businesses to continue to draw European customers after Brexit.

Overcoming Brexit challenges

So, how can smaller UK merchants address any particular post-Brexit barriers to benefit from the peak sales bonanza?

Taking advantage of eCommerce channels can offer small merchants a key advantage, by enabling them to reach multiple overseas markets simultaneously, without the expense and complexity of opening new bricks-and-mortar branches. But there are other things that merchants should bear in mind to ensure their business is ready to compete with established global rivals:

Offering value-adds, like unique products and generous returns policies, can go a long way towards retaining discount hunters in the long term. Providing exclusive ‘peak sales-only’ items and a personalised one-on-one experience, rather than short-lived discounts from a faceless store can enhance customer engagement, and help one-up larger competitors. Ensuring your website offers local languages, currencies and payment methods will also ensure you appeal to cross-border customers.

It’s important to tune fraud rules in the run-up to peak sales events to maximise conversion and minimise lost sales. Bolstering customer service availability and delivery processes can also help optimise the experience and prevent chargebacks. In addition, stepping up capacity is vital in order to handle spikes in returns and refunds after peak sales events to provide a smooth, convenient experience for customers.

Finally, merchants should choose a payment provider who can offer a stable platform capable of handling the extra surge of visitors – and work closely with its customer care team for maximum support. They should also ensure their payment provider and acquiring bank are able to operate not just in the UK, but in the EU, with appropriate licences, as well as the ability to handle cross-border transactions post-Brexit. 

Thriving post-Brexit

The best merchants can do in the face of uncertainty is prepare. Shoppers are no longer tied to their physical location – as long as the shopping, checkout and delivery process feels local to them, they will continue to purchase.

By harnessing the power of online peak sales events, combined with the support of payment experts, even the smallest UK merchants will be able to deliver an incredible customer experience in every new region they wish to target, empowering them to thrive in a post-Brexit world.

To find out more peak sales insights from Ingenico, visit: https://www2.ingenico.group/xmasinjuly-infographic.

Sangeetha Narasimhan
Sangeetha Narasimhan

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