Four years since the UK voted to leave the EU, the end of the Brexit transition period is now only a matter of days away. Whilst some aspects of the UK’s relationship with the EU after Brexit are clearer, much of the post-Brexit landscape remains uncertain.
Navigating peak season during a global pandemic has exposed the gaps in many retailers’ contingency planning and ‘preparing for the unknown’ can feel confusing and overwhelming. Luckily, it is not too late to address your delivery strategy to ensure it is fit for post-Brexit trading. Here are some of the steps to set you on the path to delivery success.
Ensure you have an EORI number
From the 1st of January 2021 you will require an EORI (European Union registration and identification) number to ship items from the UK to the Isle of Man and the EU. You may also need a separate EORI number for Northern Ireland. If you do not have an EORI, you risk additional costs and delays if your shipments get stuck at customs. Applying for an EORI takes a matter of minutes and can be done online here: Apply for an EORI number
Rely on a wider network of EU suppliers
Although a complete halt on supply is unlikely when border free trade ends on 31st of December, cost increases and delays at customs are to be expected. If your suppliers are based in the EU, the safest bet to keep your supply chain moving is to widen your network of suppliers, thus spreading out the potential risk. This way you can be assured that if any of your suppliers come up against any problems or delays, you have the option to switch and order stock elsewhere.
Use HS Codes to classify your products
The Harmonised Commodity Description and Coding System (HS code) is an internationally recognised product classification system. Customs authorities use this system worldwide to identify products, assess duties and taxes and gather statistics.
Your carriers will require these HS codes to process your shipments at customs, so it is vital that you provide them with the right data. Having incorrect or incomplete information risks your shipments being held up at customs, or you paying too little or too much tax.
Brexit-proof your warehouse and shipping platform
As a result of leaving the EU, the UK is likely to experience more complex customs processes. It is likely that this will result in longer transit times and delays at the border.
If you have a large customer base in the EU or are considering expanding into Europe, you could consider moving part of your fulfilment operation to the EU. This will not only help lessen costs and avoid the risks of incorrect customs documentation, but it will also provide you with a base in the EU to continue to grow your business.
If this is not something that is suitable for you and you would rather keep your fulfilment operations in the UK, you should make sure that your shipping platform is equipped to handle customs data. This means checking that it can capture and provide HS codes or commodity data, for example. In addition, you might want to consider automating labelling and despatch so that you save time on processing your shipments and lessen the risk of error.
How well are your carriers prepared for Brexit?
Much like your suppliers, relying on more than one carrier to fulfil your delivery requirements will provide you with a safety net. Should any one of your carrier’s experience delays or need to limit their services for any reason, relying on more than one carrier will give you the flexibility to switch providers and keep your parcels on the move.
In addition, you should check what preparations your carriers have put in place for Brexit. Some will be well prepared and will require high levels of information from you, some may not have prepared at all. Ensuring that you and your carrier are on the same page will give you a better chance of clearing customs with no hold-ups – helping to ensure a frictionless delivery service.
Make sure that your eCommerce platform is Brexit-ready
As much as it is important to make sure everything runs smoothly behind the scenes – you need to be sure that your customer facing software is updated ready for Brexit. This means speaking to your eCommerce provider about their readiness to leave the EU and the processes they have in place. This should include finding out what system updates and changes, if any, are required, and when they need to be completed by.
Protect the customer experience
Businesses aren’t the only ones dealing with Brexit – consumers are likely to be feeling nervous too. Giving reassurance to both your national and international customers has never been more critical. For this, transparency is key, both at the checkout and during the shipping process. Make sure you advise your customers of potential delays at the outset and keep them updated on the process of their shipment along the way. They will be much more forgiving about delays if they are told about them.
For your international customers, duties and taxes are the area of most concern. 68% of customers worldwide check if there are any additional fees to pay. * Whether you decide to include any duty fees within the overall cost of the product, or whether you provide an estimate which is due on delivery, transparency at the checkout will boost confidence and encourage international sales.
Speak to a delivery and logistics expert
Resilience and agility are the two words we hear most frequently when it comes to successful post-Brexit trading. Should you need any further support or advice, speaking to an enterprise carrier management expert could help. GFS has been helping many businesses to get ready for Brexit and, whether you feel prepared or not, are happy to give your delivery process the ‘Brexit health-check’ it needs to ensure you have everything in place to succeed.
Bobbie Ttooulis is executive director of Global Freight Solutions, a UK-based multi-carrier shipping and e-commerce delivery company.