More than half of UK consumers are now shopping online and UK online spend is forecast to increase 29.6% between 2019 and 2024, according to retail analysts at GlobalData. That represents a massive potential customer base for retailers to tap into. But not all of them will do so successfully – online retailing is now hugely competitive and retailers need to look ahead in order to stay ahead of the competition. 

When it comes to looking ahead, the key lies in predicting the trends – and the events that shape these trends. As we enter the new decade, let’s look at the trends we can expect to see.

The Brexit effect

Brexit – love it or loathe it, the UK’s exit from the EU (currently scheduled to be the end of January) will have a significant impact on the sector. How do we know this? Simple – it’s what retailers told us!

Our survey of retailers carried out in November and December asked: ‘Assuming that the UK’s Withdrawal from the EU goes ahead on 31 January, what is your current view of how this will impact on your business overall in the next 5 years?’  More than 36 per cent of retailers think that leaving the EU at the end of this month will have mostly negative effects on their business over the next five years. 

They include 31.9 per cent who are expecting more negative than positive impacts and 4.3 per cent who anticipate strongly negative consequences.

At the same time, over 25 per cent think Brexit will either be very beneficial (12.6 per cent) or will bring more positive than negative results (12.8 per cent).  38.3 per cent think that the balance will be neither positive nor negative.

Now that the UK is firmly on the path to withdrawing from the EU, retailers need to direct attention towards how to turn this change into an opportunity. The fundamental international nature of e-commerce means that the industry is well placed to thrive in the post Brexit trading environment. The key lies in staying informed of the many options available. 

One of the conference themes at IRX is devoted to this very issue. Under the theme of ‘Growth and Cross-Border’ the conference will provide particularly valuable insights. Among the sessions are ‘Seizing the cross-border opportunity: creating a successful strategy for expanding overseas,’ ‘How local do you go? Creating a truly targeted international offering,’ and ‘the journey to growth: identifying which markets offer the best growth potential.’ 

Firm focus on sustainability

Sustainability is truly the watchword of our times. With many customers keen to find ways to include more climate-friendly practices in their lives, retailers are turning their attention to delivering greener options. And in doing so they’re coming up with some really innovative and exciting solutions. Take Santiago Navarro, founder of Garçon Wines and speaker at the ‘Warehousing & Fulfilment’ track at the IRX conference. Garçon Wines has created an eco, flat wine bottle made of 100% recycled PET. The bottle is modelled on the traditional wine shape, but is flat, resembling a cross-section of the regular bottle, meaning it’s much more cost-effective, eco-friendly and spatially efficient. The aim, says Santiago, is to cut the sector’s CO2 emissions and lower delivery and logistics costs, as well as to turn existing plastic back into something useful: “The round glass wine bottle is an old-fashioned vessel. I wanted to create a bottle that’s fit for purpose in a 21st-century world – one that’s beautiful, light-weight, strong and sustainable.”

The result? A bottle that’s 100% recycled and 100% recyclable. Being plastic, instead of glass, it doesn’t require as much protective packaging and can be packed efficiently. One such example is Garçon Wines’ 10 flat bottle case, where 10 flat bottles pack into a space that would otherwise fit just four traditionally-shaped bottles, enabling significant spatial efficiency for a wide range of applications, including ecommerce. Each bottle is 87% lighter than the average, saves more than 500g of CO2 across the supply chain and reduces the cost of freight. 

Says Santiago: “Sustainability is fundamental to everything we do. Thanks to our innovative wine packaging, we’re improving convenience and functionality, cutting logistics costs, and slashing greenhouse gas emissions to enable happier consumers and, most importantly, a healthier planet.”

Creating more sustainable packaging is also top of the to-do list for another show speaker, Alice Tomkinson Head of Customer Experience at Instantprint. Her aim is for a plastic-free factory to produce Instantprint’s FSC-certified products. FSC certification is considered the “gold standard” designation for wood harvested from forests that are responsibly managed, socially beneficial, environmentally conscious, and economically viable. “We’re extremely conscious of our environmental footprint,” Alice explains.

Using digital to deliver customer experience

In her IRX conference session “Culture, change and agility: providing excellent customer experience in a fast-growing digital business”, Alice Tomkinson from Instantprint explains how retail businesses must be willing to change and respond to customer requirements – and do so quickly.

Alice has been driving the brand’s high focus on customer experience since October 2018, when the company undertook a massive transformation to a digital customer service operation. If businesses grow and change quickly, the customer experience can crumble – Alice and her team worked hard to ensure that this wasn’t the case.

Technology was used to address customers’ requirements for a speedy service.  Many customers do not want to – or expect to – speak to someone over the phone. They prefer online chats to deliver instant answers and results. Instantprint has built on this to offer screen sharing – using technology to help customers and achieve a fast solution. Alice explains: “On a simple level, we have to live up to our ‘instant’ name!”

Changes within a business need to have customer experience front of mind, considering not simply whether the customer is happy overall but also the amount of effort they have had to make in order to progress their customer journey. If a purchase or query becomes too long or complicated, the customer will simply close your website and take their business elsewhere.

Take Instantprint’s ‘customer effort score’. Alice explains: “Our customer effort score is just as important as our customer satisfaction score. Both the customer and our team rate how much effort a customer has had to put in in order to place an order, find further info or achieve a resolution. Broadly speaking, the less effort they put in, the happier they are.”

The ever-increasing importance of data, marketing excellence and customer loyalty – all explored at IRX – are other trends retailers need to consider now and in the next few months. By discovering how others have addressed challenges and opportunities within their business, retailers can gather the skills and insight they need to face the future and prosper in the exciting world of retail.

IRX (InternetRetailing EXPO) – the UK’s no. 1 digital retail show – takes place 1 & 2 April 2020 at the NEC, Birmingham. It’s free to register at

Twitter: @etailexpo#IRX