Brexit still feels like a topic that one can only broach with a hard hat. However, the fact is Britain now has a different trading relationship with the EU and it’s something those who trade with Europe are navigating every day.
As we are already seeing across various news reports, being outside of the single market and customs union has created disruption. Though it’s hoped this disruption will begin to settle as time moves on, in the here and now businesses need to know how they can mitigate it.
In this piece, we share some observations from our extensive Brexit work, and some practical tips businesses can use to ensure their carrier management remains as seamless and as manageable as possible.
THE DISRUPTION ISN’T IMAGINED
This is an important point to address. Whatever your stance on Britain’s departure from the EU, even the most proactive planners have encountered problems.
In Dover, parcels that were dispatched before the 1st of January hit severe roadblocks. By the time they reached border controls many were no longer compliant and had to be returned to retailers to be manually reworked at great expense. Carriers themselves have reported issues at ports due to the scale of change, sheer traffic volumes failing customs IT systems and stringent border checks. These scenes are not new to any of us now.
Then there’s Northern Ireland. Though some carriers were making changes ahead of the 1st of January, the country’s three-month, post-Brexit grace period was only confirmed on the final hour of transition. Some carriers didn’t take educated guesses and made their system changes in advance. This created confusion among retailers who found themselves being asked for last-minute changes, with different requirements being requested by different carriers.
With the government yet to confirm data and documentation requirements for the province, we can expect more uncertainty before April 1st when the grace period is set to expire.
Across Britain, some retailers have gone as far as to suspend international shipping altogether. For some this has been a result of not doing the internal work needed to meet new data requirements. For others, it has been because their preferred carriers have themselves suspended their services or begun charging much higher rates.
If Brexit has done one thing, it has shone a light on the importance of multi-carrier operations. Too many retailers are reliant on just one carrier, meaning they run the risks that come from having a single point of failure. Using multiple carriers means they can engineer more proactive rerouting for parcel shipping, acquire a stronger position for rates and – crucially -mitigate risk.
CHANGES TO OPERATIONS AND DATA MANAGEMENT POST-BREXIT
This is where partnering with an API-first technology provider can significantly reduce the burden for retailers.
Such providers offer a range of data-based key services to help keep orders moving. This will go as far as the amendment of mandatory order fields to enable the continuation of shipping, even as carrier requirements change. However, this is about more than simple data transfer, the quality of data will improve as well.
Non-compliant shipments sent by retailers are routinely reaching carriers without the necessary data. API-first tech providers can validate data before the point at which a retailer prints a label. This means that the carrier’s requirements are met, and non-compliant shipments do not enter already strained networks. Consequently, manual handling is reduced further down the line, as are the costs required for sending shipments back to retailer.
As the success of API-first delivery tech depends on the providers building a frictionless service for customers, many were amongst the first to establish Brexit taskforces to help both their customers and carriers prepare. This has included the implementation of comprehensive communication infrastructures and the provision of regular, accessible and transparent tech docs on a carrier-by-carrier basis.
HOW BREXIT COULD TRANSFORM THE RETAIL SUPPLY CHAIN
Reasonably accurate predictions as to how Brexit might transform the retail supply chain can be made by looking at what’s already happening. Some carriers are moving to paperless customs documentation while others have paused returns back into the UK. We would hope only temporarily.
As a result of rising charges and bureaucracy, we may see more retailers and carriers move distribution into Europe. This would mean that UK parcel traffic would become more domestic-led and volumes coming into the country would reduce.
Conversely, adoption of ‘ship from store’ will likely continue its steady growth. Many large, global retailers are turning their stores into mini distribution centres which should lead to better utilisation of store estate, workforce, stock and local delivery networks.
Perhaps most importantly, and central to the business model of most retailers, is their customer promise. As such, checkout pages should always make a commitment that retailers can realistically deliver.
This is where connecting carriers and retailers becomes key.