But shopping inspiration can come from the most unlikely sources, and business owners may be surprised to learn that FinTechs are making some of the biggest waves when it comes to driving consumers back into stores.
Consider, for instance, the launch of Revolut’s new card reader for shops, or the fact that Klarna has introduced a physical ‘buy now, pay later’ card for customers to use in-store. Finance businesses have cottoned on to the fact that it was only ever ease and efficiency that had consumers step away from stores and queues in the first place, and new finance solutions could very well alleviate all that.
For that reason, Jat Sahi’s advice to retailers is to look beyond the traditional chip & pin or contactless experience.
Instead, look to provide technology that is revolutionising the sector and is both beneficial to customers and in-store revenue. After all, shoppers are increasingly asking “why should I shop in-store when I can shop online?” Jat believes point-of-sale technology (POS) is the answer.
Remove pain-points and increase satisfaction
Now, it’s vital that all brick-and-mortar retailers rival the experience customers receive online.
This means removing all pain points associated with in-store shopping, such as long queues to complete a transaction – particularly as research from the British Retail Consortium (BRC) found that 79% of customers won’t wait longer than five minutes to pay.
Therefore, to avoid basket abandonment, retailers need to provide point-of-sale (POS) technology (the time and place where a retail transaction is completed e.g., through a hand-held device on the shop floor) to customers so they can pay for their goods quickly and efficiently. Indeed, we have seen supermarkets roll out this technology, but it’s time for apparel and homeware stores to catch up. Offering this technology will allow them to compete with eCommerce pure players as it mirrors the virtual checkout experience, and it will also give them a competitive edge as there are no costs associated with shipping or returns.
Within the retail industry, there is a feeling that customers are increasingly loyal to service, not brands and implementing POS technology certainly plays into that. But, on the other side of the coin, POS can also decrease overheads and increase internal operational efficiency.
The benefit for retailers
Stores with high volumes of transactions are an ideal fit for self-checkout technology. The ability for consumers to check out independently through their iPhone or smartphone can increase the number of transactions and create an uptick in sales. What’s more, self-checkout also removes the footprint associated with traditional tills, allowing further room for stock.
Elsewhere, these new digital processes mean that employees aren’t ladened with manual transactions and they can spend their time focusing on what truly matters - the customer. Customers are drawn to in-store shopping for the tactile experience and human interaction - this technology allows employees to elevate this experience and increase customer loyalty.
A balanced approach
But, despite around four in five (80%) shoppers calling for retailers to invest in technology to help avoid queues and all the associated benefits with automation, a soft rollout is advised.
Simply removing all manned tills can lead to the feeling that people are being replaced by machines, which is problematic as this lack of choice means that if difficulties with automation do arise, the shopper is left bewildered and frustrated. Instead, provide both and have lengthy discussions with third-party partners implementing the technology to make sure that all employees are trained on how to navigate the system to deliver the seamless experience promised to customers.
What’s more, it’s also important to remember that while most of the population is digitally native, there are over eight million adults in the UK relying on cash to make everyday payments and excluding this demographic has led to many financial service providers stating that digital transformation has come too soon for many. This further cements the need for choice – as moving too quickly can lead to petitions such as ‘Stop the replacement of people by machines’.
Now is the time to seize the moment
Looking forward, the shift towards eCommerce experienced in the pandemic is unlikely to be reversed. However, what retailers with an in-store presence can do is look at the benefits associated with a virtual basket and replicate these. As a nation, we’re undergoing a period of digital transformation and over the coming month, we will slowly see this technology shift from being ‘innovative’ to the ‘norm’. My key takeaway, plan for this rollout now but make sure it’s a soft transition - if you leave it too long, your competitor will have it up and running in no time.
High streets around the world have been in decline for many years, with the likes of Amazon as well as other online retailers squeezing many high street vendors and retailers out of the market. Recently however, with people making the switch to home working, things may be changing.
All retailers have been susceptible to the huge rise of online shopping and the COVID-19 pandemic has only accelerated this.
Illya Shpetrik, a USA-based fashion and entrepreneur, has commented on this, saying: “Online retail, be it in fashion or otherwise is of course here to stay. However, people remain keen on their local high streets, which serve an essential purpose. The local high street has changed and adapted itself over many years and will hopefully be here to stay.”
Illya Shpetrik continued: “Online retail and physical stores and shops on the high street will ultimately learn to co-exist side by side. They will both always be there in one form or another. They also relate to certain value we all have. For example, growing up, in the Shpetrik household, we always went to our local grocery store for certain items but to the larger retailers for other goods. This is how high streets and online retail will likely learn to co-exist.”
With more people than ever working from home and with people’s savings and disposable income in the UK and around the world growing, there are billions of pounds and dollars waiting to be spent. Significantly, with people changing so many of their daily and work habits as a result of the changes to how and where we work, it is city centres which are feeling the greatest pinch.
City workers are not in town and city centres in anything close to the numbers they were throughout 2019. However, although many habits and practices have changed as a result of how we are all now working, hose who would go out daily in busy city centres to buy food and other items may still do so in their local high streets. Therefore, at least a portion of what they would otherwise have spent is being spent in local high street shops as well as online.
Many people have also seized the opportunity of having to work from home and changed their place of abode and work entirely. Co-living spaces, for example, are increasing in popularity, with many empty city centre premises being transformed into innovative co-living and co-working spaces. A key benefit of these spaces is that with micro-communities under one roof, work, business and leisure are combined conveniently in city and urban centres.
This is a significant shift in people’s work-life balance, with people turning to city and town centres to live as well as work in a way never seen before.
On this, Illya Shpetrik commented: “Everything has, in a sense been turned upside down. Previously, it was work in the city centre and live and relax in suburbs and in and around local high streets. This has however become skewed in recent times with co-living spaces for living and work springing up in city centres and shopping now taking place like never before, once again, on high streets.”
Both scenarios forced a change in consumer habits. Last year, as the payments ecosystem expanded and digital payments surged, e-commerce reached an estimated $794.50 billion in 2020. Vince Graziani from IDEX Biometrics explores this further.
Adapt to survive: reimaging the traditional high street
Although the change in consumer habits was brought on by the effects of the pandemic, it will cause a shake-up of preferences that will be felt by retailers long after. This will have lasting impacts on the shape of our retail sector. It would be easy to assume that COVID has finally killed the shopping mall, but many retail experts remain optimistic and the government has given a cash injection to restore some struggling stores. However, even ‘retail guru’ Mary Portas has argued that retailers need to evolve and change the high-street experience completely if they are to avoid the same fate as Topshop and Debenhams.
Rather than a demise of the high street, the pandemic looks set to force change once again towards more experiential retail practices that prioritise hassle-free shopping in a high-hygiene environment.
Pandemic leading the way for touch-free shopping experiences
With the potential for viruses to live on surfaces such as handles, hangers and touchscreens, touch-free innovative shopping experiences are essential to pave the way forward for brick-and-mortar retailers.
Finding creative ways to help people shop will be the way that high-street retail innovates for years to come - and it will all be touch-free. Although these immersive experiences are being trialled now, iterations are happening quickly which is setting the trajectory for retailers.
Data-driven personalisation and artificial intelligence are likely to be game-changing innovations, blending the physical and digital shopping experience. Think gamification and storytelling with customised apps that reveal exclusive content about products or items of clothing to create an immersive physical experience. The ability to make reservations for a more intimate and safe physical shopping experience is another approach.
To deliver a high-hygiene-and-high-security high street, the payments industry must look to integrate biometric fingerprint sensors into familiar payment cards to authenticate payments.
The payment revolution
But there is another aspect of the touch-free shopping experience that has advanced even more rapidly: the in-store check-out process. Since the COVID outbreak, ‘proximity payments’ – contactless or mobile forms of payment – have increased by 18.9% to accommodate pandemic-driven demand.
Retailers and the payments industry were already headed this way, but, according to Business Insider research, the pandemic has advanced the digitalisation of payments by two to three years. With these changes to the digital payments landscape consumers will become used to making fast, contactless card payments and begin to demand a faster, smarter and better way to pay to improve their retail experience.
In response, the payments ecosystem has expanded significantly in the last year, advancing to include biometric payments, such as the newly released Amazon One, which allows consumers to pay using a palm scanning device linked to a payment card in Amazon’s ‘staff-less stores’.
We’ve also seen facial payment methods roll out in China – where Ant Group’s Alipay has introduced the ability to ‘pay with a smile’ through a facial recognition self-order platform. However, there the payment technology has largely failed to gain popularity, predominantly because of concerns about how personal data will be used or stored.
Growing security concerns
This acceleration of digital payments has deepened worries across the board about the use of personal data and risks involved and, as a result, payment security has been raised higher up the consumer agenda. Whilst minimising contact and queues, the palm scanner doesn’t remove the security issues completely as payment data is still stored on Amazon’s cloud which carries a potential risk of a data breach. As a result, we may see a reluctance from consumers to hand over their data to big corporations.
Similarly, whilst contactless card and mobile wallet payments were designed to make our lives easier, the spending limits enforced to make them secure have been a source of frustration in the pandemic. The contactless limit has already risen to £45 in the UK in 2020, and there is speculation the spend limit could be increased again to £100. Some banks in the US have already raised contactless limits to the full credit limit of the card. Obviously, these changes are to the detriment of security.
So, it’s clear that consumers need a new form of touch-free payment that is secure, convenient, safe and personal.
Combining convenience and security in biometric payment cards
This is where fingerprint biometric payment cards can play a pivotal role. To deliver a high-hygiene-and-high-security high street, the payments industry must look to integrate biometric fingerprint sensors into familiar payment cards to authenticate payments. This in-card sensor need only be touched by the user of the card, making it hygienic while linking the person to their payment data. Biometric cards, therefore, address the health concerns of today’s coronavirus-conscious consumers without compromising data security.
Importantly, upon registration, an abstract biometric template is stored in the secure element of the card and never leaves the device. Such technology provides all the security that biometrics promises, without the threat of personal data being breached - also removing the incentive for theft or misuse.
With lockdown restrictions easing and as the high street begins to re-open again, the contactless payment debate around hygiene, convenience and security will continue to press on. Over the next few months, consumer health concerns will remain a high priority for not only the retail industry but also for other industries too.
The COVID-19 pandemic, despite the overall economic impact, has provided new opportunities for retailers wishing to embrace change. To survive economic downturns, retailers need to innovate the customer experience to reflect current demands will succeed.
Online fashion retailer Boohoo has bought out Dorothy Perkins, Burton and Wallis from Sir Philip Green’s failed retail group Arcadia for £25.2 million.
The deal comes only weeks after Boohoo moved to buy Debenhams, a prominent UK high street retailer also owned by Arcadia Group, for £55 million.
Like the Debenhams purchase, Boohoo will acquire the brands and online businesses of Dorothy Perkins, Wallis and Burton, but not the 214 physical stores that come with them. Administrators Deloitte, which has been overseeing the sales, stated that around 2,450 jobs will be lost as these shops wind down their business.
260 head office roles relating to the brands’ design, buying, merchandising and digital operations will be transferred to Boohoo.
John Lyttle, CEO of Boohoo, touted the deal as the newest entry in a “successful track record” of integrating high-profile British brands into Boohoo’s online storefront.
“Acquiring these well known brands in British fashion out of administration ensures their heritage is sustained, while our investment aims to transform them into brands that are fit for the current market environment,” he said.
Asos, an online retail rival to Boohoo, also bought out a number of Arcadia’s largest brands last week. Topshop, Topman and Miss Selfridge were purchased for £330 million in another brands-only deal that did not include stores or warehouses, putting a further 2,500 jobs at risk.
Commenting on the news of Boohoo’s latest purchases, Sendcloud CEO Rob van den Heuvel cautioned against viewing the move as demonstrating that physical retail no longer has value. “Consumers are craving the face-to-face retail experience now more than ever, with 44% of consumers planning to start shopping at retail stores as soon as businesses reopen,” he noted.
“While shifting to eCommerce may be one of the only ways businesses survive in the short-term - now is not the time to tear down brick and mortar stores.”
In a statement on Monday, Frasers Group – owned by retail tycoon Mike Ashley – confirmed that it is in talks with Debenhams’ administrators regarding a possible rescue bid for its UK operations.
The 242-year-old UK department store chain entered administration in April and has since been exploring avenues for rescue. As recently as the end of November, JD Sports had been closing in on a deal to purchase the struggling retailer. But following the collapse of Philip Green’s Arcadia – Debenhams’ biggest concession operator – JD Sports pulled out of talks at the beginning of December, forcing the company to prepare to wind down its business.
Mike Ashley had already made an offer for Debenhams shortly after it entered administration in April, but his £125 million bid was rejected as too low, and JD Sports was left as the sole bidder.
Frasers Group said in its Monday statement that, while it hopes that a rescue can be pulled off, “time is short and the position is further complicated by the recent administration of the Arcadia Group, Debenhams' biggest concession holder.”
“There is no certainty that any transaction will take place, particularly if discussions cannot be concluded swiftly,” it said.
While Frasers Group did not offer details of its potential offer, the Sunday Times speculated that the bid could value the chain at up to £200 million.
Debenhams currently operates 444 stores in the UK and 22 overseas and employs around 13,000 people, 9,294 of whom are currently on furlough. These stores are continuing to operate as the company winds down its business, with the aim of closing once stocks are cleared.
Frasers Group shares fell 2% in early Monday trading following its announcement.
This has especially rung true for the British high street in recent years, with retail centre footfall having fallen almost exclusively between January 2017 and March 2019.
Whilst the future prospects for high street retail may initially seem bleak, there is nonetheless good reason to believe that there is light at the end of the tunnel. In this article, Jason Wood, Head of Commercial Property and Rashid Ali, Partner at UK law firm Smith Partnership, take a closer look at the role of commercial property in the age of high street decline.
Is High Street Retail Really Nearing Death?
Headlines announcing 'the death of high street retail' have become commonplace in the public arena, and there is definitely significant evidence to suggest that the high street is at least feeling the pressure.
The number of people purchasing goods and services online is expected to increase from 1.66 billion in 2016 to around 2.14 billion in 2021. Overall, ecommerce sales already accounted for more than 14% of global retail sales in 2019, and forecasts are tipping it to grow further towards 22% in the next four years alone.
Although these figures do not necessarily mean that digital consumers are shifting their focus entirely towards the online sphere, the trend undoubtedly represents a threat to traditional retail businesses. That observation is backed by the numbers, with the closure of UK chain stores having led to a decline of 6537 stores in 2018.
It's not all bad news, however. Amidst this general downturn, takeaways, sports clubs, pet shops and specialist clothing stores are just some of the retailers that have posted a net gain in store numbers during the first half of 2019.
As online sales continue to grow, retail businesses have begun to adapt and diversify their approach. Aside from making their own move into the online market, retailers have found many new ways of safeguarding their commercial longevity. These could range from practical steps such as selling assets and large-scale reorganisations to focusing on the delivery of a more immersive brand experience.
Although the former approach may be seen as a necessary consequence of the changing retail environment, the latter steps may well be the ones that help reimagine high street retail in the 21st century. The presence of physical stores will always be the main distinction between online and offline shopping, and retailers are faced with the challenge of playing to those unique strengths in a future-oriented way.
What About the Commercial Property Sector?
Retailers aren't the only ones having to adapt to this brave new world – the commercial property sector has its own role to play in shaping the direction of the UK high street.
Store closures affecting both small businesses and high-profile retailers have made it harder for property investors to make the most out of their brick and mortar assets. Instead, many of them are faced with vacant space and reduced rental yields.
Unsurprisingly, commercial landlords whose portfolio is heavily focused around retail space are being hit hardest by the struggling retail sector. Rental cuts and company voluntary arrangements (CVAs) are at the order of the day, forcing landlords to rethink their strategy.
Commercial landlords whose portfolio is heavily focused around retail space are being hit hardest by the struggling retail sector.
Much like retailers themselves, diversification is often at the centre of that new approach. In some cases, this calls for nothing more than the repurposing of one retail space into another – as more and more shopping goes digital, retail warehouses continue to retain their importance.
In other cases, commercial property investors are moving into an entirely new direction. Opportunities in residential property, build to rent, flexible office space and other areas mean that landlords still enjoy many avenues through which to pursue commercial success. If the decline of the high street has taught us anything, it's that adaptability is central to achieving that goal.
In order to ensure longevity, developments can no longer be based solely on office or residential use. A greater focus on multi-use, the environment and more flexible lease structures can go a long way in shaping spaces that occupiers wish to remain in, helping landlords guarantee income in the long term.
The commercial property sector is also responding to these changes through moving away from retail-led and transactional high streets. There is now a greater focus on experience and the blending of retail, leisure and culture into a single space. The future of city centres lies with being more than just a place to shop; they are set to become community hubs where visitors can shop, eat, visit and explore to their heart's content.
In the face of such developments, landlords themselves are also having to alter their approach. Commenting on the changing role of the commercial landlord, Smith Partnership's Wood and Ali said:
"Landlords focused on providing long leases at high rents are likely to struggle for survival in the long-term. In their place, landlords who take a more active role in the management and performance of their tenants are likely to become the new norm. As such, commercial landlords are steadily settling into a new role as the curators of the high street, considering which businesses will thrive in their space and supporting them in doing just that."
A New Horizon
With changing consumer behaviours continuing to have a significant impact on the UK high street, the time has never been better to carve out a new way forward.
Although retailers and commercial landlords will undoubtedly face further challenges in the years to come, there is also a wealth of new opportunity on the horizon. Those who are able to capitalise on it successfully are set to play an instrumental role in shaping the path ahead.
Here Alpa Bhakta, CEO of Butterfield Mortgages Limited, explains what factors and characteristics brokers and borrowers need to be on the look out for when selecting a lender. As part of the feature, she'll also delve into how the rise of challenger banks has affected the prime property and mortgage markets.
Between 2016 and 2018, as many as 4,214 new products were introduced into the residential mortgage market. It’s a remarkable statistic, and one that reflects the broadening range of options available to homebuyers.
Today, mortgage lenders have larger product portfolios, with subtle variations in their terms and rates meaning they provide multiple iterations of what is fundamentally the same offering. At the same time, the rise of “challenger banks” means there are more and more new players entering the industry, in turn giving borrowers entirely new companies to approach.
One would naturally assume this is a positive trend, something to be welcomed and celebrated. However, in truth, despite the increase in the number of mortgage products available to consumers and investors, challenges still remain.
As with any market that expands steadily over a long period, the wealth of options to choose from can prove overwhelming. Indeed, filtering through thousands of potential mortgages to find the best product from the right lender is perhaps more difficult than ever.
Earlier this year, Butterfield Mortgages Limited carried out an interesting piece of research delving into the UK’s mortgage market––or more specifically, the UK’s high net-worth (HNW) mortgage market––to establish borrowers’ opinions of the products available.
The independent survey of more than 500 HNW individuals revealed that even for the wealthiest members of society, there are still significant barriers to securing a mortgage. For example, one in nine said they had been turned down for a mortgage in the past decade.
Furthermore, 79% said they think too many lenders are currently employing overly restrictive “tick box” methods when assessing mortgage applications; 60% believe it is becoming increasingly difficult to secure a mortgage for a non-primary residential purchase; and 67% of UK HNWs feel banks do not adequately cater to the needs of property investors and buy-to-let landlords.
The results illustrate how the wealth of options available to mortgage applicants is not always a good thing. In fact, it means there are more unsuitable products and lenders that a borrower must filter though.
Enter the intermediaries. Brokers and wealth advisers have a more important role than ever in guiding their clients, such as HNWs, towards the best and most appropriate mortgage products. Indeed, the aforementioned BML research showed how 73% of HNWs rely on brokers to help them find mortgages.
The larger the mortgage market becomes, the more valuable expert help will be in connecting borrowers to suitable lenders and products.
It’s nearing three years since the EU referendum, and as if anyone needed reminding, Brexit has dominated political and economic discourse throughout this period. In a word, the result of the on-going Brexit saga has been uncertainty.
A lack of clarity regarding what the UK’s financial and political future will look like has resulted in hesitancy among consumers, investors and businesses alike. In the mortgage market, this means further due diligence is required from borrowers and brokers to ensure they work with lenders who are not at risk of succumbing to the challenging conditions currently gripping the market.
Over recent months the likes of Secure Trust Bank, Amicus Finance and Fleet Mortgages have withdrawn from the lending market or frozen their activities. As FT Adviser reported in January, the combination of Brexit and increased competition has forced some companies out of the market, while other lenders are pulling out of deals at the last minute.
One of a borrower’s greatest fears is that he or she will choose a mortgage lender who enters financial difficulties and this, in turn, has the potential to compromise their own finances. To avoid this, one must establish the relative security of different lenders based on the strength and longevity of their funding lines, as well as their past track-record of weathering turbulent periods, such as the 2008 global economic crisis.
The number of products and lenders in the mortgage market is on the rise. Meanwhile, Brexit uncertainty has presented new challenges to both traditional and challenger lenders. Consequently, selecting the right mortgage from the right provider requires more due diligence than ever.
After all, there are specialist lenders with expertise in providing bespoke mortgages for even the most niche borrowers in the most unique situations. Finding them may take work, but ultimately the health of the mortgage market reflects the ever-present demand among both domestic and international buyers for bricks and mortar assets here in the UK, and this certainly is something to celebrate.
As Debenhams becomes the latest casualty of the failing British high-street, Neil Clothier, Head of Negotiations at global sales and negotiation skills development company, Huthwaite International, which over the past 30 years has trained senior negotiation professionals across the globe, examines how businessman Mike Ashley has approached the situation. Has his aggressive approach irreparably damaged his chance of a successful takeover, or does it show his passion for the brand and its stakeholders?
Ashley’s negotiation techniques
With the announcement of Debenhams’ struggle to turn a profit and pay back any proportion of its mounting debt, Mike Ashley – on paper at least – should have been a favourite to take over the running of the department store chain, rescuing it from the brink of collapse. However, unfortunately for Mr Ashley and his now worthless assets, the Debenhams lenders have taken a different tact.
For Mike Ashley, it could be that his reputation preceded him, and ultimately thwarted his efforts. In business, as in life, a reputation for a heavy-handed approach, a penchant for taking risks, and a very narrow approach to negotiation can leave our peers feeling wary.
Over the past few years, we have seen Ashley adopt a particularly aggressive approach to his negotiations time and time again, with a ‘my way or the highway’ attitude. This technique is well known throughout the world of business, and indeed politics, often referred to as the ‘mad man’ technique, an approach used by some of the most powerful people in the world – namely Presidents Trump and Nixon among others. Its characteristics include emphasising an initial stance – often extremely bold or aggressive – which will then help pave way for a lesser, but still related, demand. It also makes one’s opponents think that the negotiator is unpredictable and willing to do anything to get their way – which may even mean pulling out of the deal altogether.
In a sensitive negotiation environment such as this, a more nuanced approach is often needed. In business negotiations, compromise is key – an effective outcome would result in a win-win for both parties involved, but this relies heavily on both parties being willing to negotiate in the first place.
However, while it’s a risky approach, it does work on occasion. In this case, it’s likely Mr Ashley headed into these negotiations with a bold stance because he quite understandably wanted to protect hundreds of jobs and shareholder assets. However, this display of passion was not well received and has led to the Debenhams lenders steamrolling in and wiping his offer off the table – which has certainly been a source of contention for many.
In a sensitive negotiation environment such as this, a more nuanced approach is often needed. In business negotiations, compromise is key – an effective outcome would result in a win-win for both parties involved, but this relies heavily on both parties being willing to negotiate in the first place. With Mike Ashley wanting to do things his own way, and making that very clear, and the Debenhams lenders ultimately in the position of power – potentially possessing negative preconceptions of what entering into business with him would look like – it doesn’t leave Mr Ashley with much of a leg to stand on, unless he’s willing to make serious concessions to the offer he’s put forward or can put forward a far more persuasive case.
Reversing Debenhams’ decision
Negotiations are about compromise for both parties and focusing the commentary on what is mutually beneficial for all key stakeholders involved. In the case of Debenhams entering into administration, Mike Ashley must look to emphasise that it’s not just his own personal investment at risk, but that of other shareholders, lenders, and the jobs of thousands of employees and impact on contractors too. This case, if put forward in the right way, should ultimately align with Debenhams’ intentions.
In the case of Debenhams entering into administration, Mike Ashley must look to emphasise that it’s not just his own personal investment at risk, but that of other shareholders, lenders, and the jobs of thousands of employees and impact on contractors too.
It is vital that negotiators in this type of sensitive situation steer clear of harsh language and rash behaviour, and instead take a much more thoughtful approach, remaining open and flexible in order to create the positive climate needed for a successful negotiation. This is never more important than in the final stages of a negotiation process, or indeed in this case when Mike Ashley will be looking to persuade parties to reopen talks. It means ensuring that both parties are willing to head back to basics and reassess the ideal outcome for both sides and adjusting the tone of his discourse accordingly, and this could prove to be a far better strategy yielding greater success than the mad man approach.
It will be interesting to see the final outcome of the Debenhams takeover, and whether Mike Ashley does indeed get his way. However, what’s concerning is that he is already falling into the habit of ‘dirty negotiation tricks’ – often a last resort – which are designed to deliberately irritate the opposition and provoke them into action. In this case, we see rash public outbursts, a controversial post-announcement statement expressing his opinion that the Debenhams deal was simply ‘a long-planned theft’ and his new threat of legal action. These, of course, will completely close off the chance of any future productive dialogue, so it would make sense for Ashley to change tact if he wants any further progress. In some instances of negotiation, putting ego or frustration aside and recognising and respecting opponent power can result in the best outcomes
If you want to hear about how Huthwaite International can help your team increase negotiation skills and business revenue for your company, contact email@example.com
There are many reasons why people take out title loans. Sometimes a person has an unexpected expense, such as medical bills, that need to be paid for. Other times, people just want some extra cash to get through the week.
Title loans are loans for small amounts of money. Your car title is put up for collateral. These loans usually have high interest rates and are for shorter periods of time than most conventional loans.
There are many companies that offer title loans. Many of them are conveniently located in your city and other neighboring towns. Some businesses offer online title loans with no store visit. They may require you to set up a user account to log in by providing some basic contact information.
These are a few important facts about title loans. They should be considered as a short-term option instead of a long-term financial solution. Read the contract carefully before signing it, so that you are aware of the terms and any potential penalties for late or missed payments. Title loans offer flexibility and freedom for many people every day.
Gold has long been known as a store of value to help investors weather turbulent financial markets. Below, Shaun Djie, Co-Founder and COO of Digix, explains why digital gold is a forward moving solution for everyone.
In recent years, it has also become far easier for the average individual to buy and sell gold. There are online bullion dealers and high-street shops selling gold, as well as exchange-traded funds for gold, which are effectively investment funds that track the price of gold.
However, while it’s now easier to purchase, the spread between what individuals pay for this asset and what dealers sell it for can be very big. This is especially true for small denominations of gold. Exchange traded funds overcome many of the associated complications of investing in gold but they tend to be more expensive than physical gold because of the inclusion of brokerage and management fees.
But for those interested in investing in gold and getting a better deal for it, the good news is an alternative to owning physical gold and relying on ETFs is emerging – thanks to blockchain technology.
Understanding blockchain’s potential
Blockchains are shared digital ledgers that record every transaction ever made on them. So physical assets like gold can be divided and represented by tokens, and blockchain technology can keep track of the ownership of those tokens.
Gold has become one of the first real-world assets to be tokenised and freely traded on the blockchain. With this comes a level of divisibility that hasn’t been seen before. Emerging gold ownership and trading protocols can ensure that tokens are minted on a proportional basis – so, for example, one token is equivalent to one gram of a physical gold held in a secure vault.
In some systems, the delivered gold is subject to verifications at the point of deposit into the vault, as well as at quarterly reviews by independent auditors. Hence, there should never be more tokens created than the total weight of physical gold bullion backing them.
Simplicity and liquidity
In this way, gold-backed tokens not only bring divisibility but also an easy, reliable and secure way to own and trade gold. Liquidity would increase, which would be good news for current gold investors and any prospective investors who may have been put off by an inability to access small denominations or by the fees that ETFs charge.
For existing investors, more profits from gold can end up in their pocket too. Buying a gram of gold through leading smart asset companies on the Ethereum blockchain costs under US$40, where as the retail price for a 1g bar hovers around the US$77 mark.
That’s because, by removing the physical and administrative costs of creating 1g gold bars, tokenised gold can get as close to the the spot price of gold than any method – regardless of the size of purchase.
Stability that investors can rely on
While these benefits will sound appealing to many investors, some may point to the historical volatility of cryptocurrencies as a sign that they won’t appeal to gold investors’ needs. It’s certainly true that the huge speculative bubble in virtual currencies has led to immense volatility.
However, gold-backed tokens are totally different to existing cryptocurrencies because of the bridge they have to the real world asset. To build confidence in crypto markets, gold-backed tokens are needed. They can also diversify portfolios and be used as collateral for lending and other financial products.
For existing investors, gold forming a central part of the crypto economy would be beneficial, pushing up the demand for the metal even further. These investors have always been able to see the value of their investment in this asset. However, through the tokenisation of physical gold, they can benefit from the liquidity, divisibility and security of these digital assets just as much as entirely new investors can.
Company voluntary arrangements (CVAs) have been a mainstay in the financial news over the last six months due to their status as the restructuring tool of choice for many of the UK’s high street stores. House of Fraser, Mothercare, New Look and plenty more retailers besides have all used CVAs to try to renegotiate their existing debts with unsecured creditors. But with this increasing use has come more scrutiny, with a number of parties unhappy with the way the current system works.
Are CVAs fit for purpose?
There is growing concern among a number of parties that CVAs, as they stand, are being abused. Company voluntary arrangements are an insolvency tool that’s designed to give struggling businesses more time to repay their debts and an opportunity to restructure away from the constant threat of legal action from creditors. However, they are increasingly being seen by creditors as an easy way for businesses to avoid administration and downsize their operations to the detriment of their creditors.
Landlords, in particular, feel like they’re getting the raw end of the deal. That’s because many struggling retailers, with House of Fraser being a recent example, are using CVAs to force reductions in the rent they pay and even break leases to close stores. It’s not only landlords who are feeling aggrieved. Other retailers that are battling to stay afloat are having to watch their rivals secure lower rents through CVAs while they are left to pay the going rate.
Landlords feel they’re not having their say
For a CVA to be put in place, it must receive the approval of 75% of the company’s creditors by the value of debt. However, while it is only unsecured creditors that will be affected by the terms of the CVA, secured creditors like banks and other financial institutions are still allowed to vote on the proposals. That means many CVAs are being approved without being accepted by landlords and other unsecured creditors who will take the financial hit.
Landlords are also concerned that CVAs are not always being used by retailers as an absolute last resort. Some landlords claim that retailers are not ‘on the cliff edge’ and are simply seeking a way to reduce their debts. This is often to the detriment of landlords and the benefit of the retailers’ shareholders. As an example, House of Fraser asked its UK landlords to accept a 30% rent cut, yet in the same month it opened a new 400,000sq. ft. store in China.
What reforms, if any, are needed?
The insolvency trade body R3 recently published a report that evaluated the success and failure of CVAs and recommended some changes that could be made to make the process more attractive. The report made a number of recommendations:
This will provide some relief to landlords who will be pleased to see the recommendation relating to director’s duties and the requirement to address financial distress earlier. They will also be reassured by R3’s agreement that CVAs in their current form are too long.
As yet, there’s no indication as to whether the recommendations are likely to be implemented. However, the report does make a strong case for the government to look again at the CVA process and implement at least some of the reforms.
Mike Smith is the Senior Director of Company Debt and a turnaround practitioner who specialises in giving small and medium-sized businesses debt advice and guidance on CVAs.
Finance Monthly delves into the potential impact of an ‘Amazon tax’ and the alternative solutions that can help the struggling British bricks-and-mortar retailers.
With a series of high-profile collapses and CVAs, including the recent turbulences that House of Fraser is faced with, Britain has seen its fair share of high-street horror stories in 2018. Stores like Toys R Us UK, Maplin and Mothercare are all facing extinction, whilst online retailers such as Amazon are stronger than ever, cashing in $2.5bn per quarter and paying less and less corporation tax with Amazon’s UK tax bill falling about 40% in 2017, and it paying just £4.6 million ($5.6 million). In times like these, the UK retail industry has naturally called on the Government to review its outdated corporation tax system and take action to help the struggling high street. Chancellor Philip Hammond has in turn announced that he is considering a special retail tax on online business, dubbed the ‘Amazon tax’, in order to establish a “level-playing field” for online retailers and high-street shops. But is a new tax really the solution that will balance the market out? Will it be the solution that traditional trade needs?
Is Amazon’s Existence the Biggest Problem?
Consumer habits are changing rapidly with the continued growth of online shopping, but the truth is that the extraordinary success of web traders is only one of the aspects to consider when looking for the reasons behind the decline in traditional retail. And even though a hike in the tax that Amazon pays may seem like a necessary and logical step, it will be nothing more than a minor distraction from the bigger issue and something that will mainly benefit the Treasury.
It is worth noting that the UK store chains that have collapsed recently did so due to not having the right products at the right prices, not staying up-to-date with consumer trends, not targeting the right customers or not investing enough in their businesses. Surely, online-only merchants have transformed the trade landscape and the UK tax system needs to be adjusted in order to reflect the current retail dynamics – especially when Amazon’s tax bill for 2017 was only £4.6 million on £2 billion of sales. But is the fact that the web giant is paying such a low amount of tax the reason for the collapse of a number of bricks-and-mortar retailers? I think not.
Moreover, as Bloomberg points out, an internet shopping tax could end up backfiring and hurting the bricks-and-mortar retailers it is intended to help. According to the British Retail Consortium, in 2017, more than 17% of sales were made online. Over half of them were with businesses that also have shops. Thus, retailers such as Next Plc, which has both online and offline businesses, could face “a double tax whammy”.
The Real Problem
Driving restrictions around city centres, increased parking charges by local councils and state demands such as minimum wage legislation and Sunday trading laws have had a negative impact on bricks-and-mortar retail. Then there is the main challenge in the face of sky-high business rates which have been the bane of countless entrepreneurs trying to establish a high-street presence. In an article for The Telegraph, Ruth Davidson wrote that the UK retail sector, which makes up 5% of the country’s economy, is paying “25% of all business rates, over £7 billion per year”. One might argue that in order to help bricks-and-mortar retailers and keep British town centres bustling with thriving commerce, politicians could perhaps work towards reducing the financial burden they’re faced with, before punishing web giants for offering an easy and convenient way to shop in this digital era. In order to keep up with their online competitors, traditional stores need to focus on technology innovation and redesigning the experience that the modern-day customer expects. But most importantly, they need the budget to do so and a reduction in business rates for high-street stores could be one way to provide them with some extra cash to invest in technology.
Another thing to consider, as Andrea Felsted suggests, could be raising business rates for offices and warehouses and cutting them for shops. That would “address the disparity between shopfront-heavy retailers and online-only businesses, which rely on distribution centres to serve their customers”.
A potential Amazon tax for all web-only retailers will not help bricks-and-mortar retail to innovate. Surely, it will level the playing field, but apart from that, all we can expect will be a slowdown in online shopping without doing anything to solve the current problems that traditional traders are struggling with.