Long distance relationships are hard

Brexit agreement redraws lines among cross-border consumer behaviors.

First, there was Ross and Rachael. Then, there was Boris, Emmanuel and Angela. The on-again, off-again relationship that is Brexit has provided fodder for a lot of speculation on the economic impacts on both sides of the English Channel. 

For Eurozone consumers, who since 1993 have been accustomed to buying goods cross-border nearly as easily and cost-effectively as domestic products, what changes are in store? As of 2019, £5.3B of apparel & accessories were imported from the UK to the EU, an amount that had been declining consistently over the past 3 years. The new agreement looks likely to accelerate this trend. Continental consumers must now (finally, conclusively, for real...we’re sure) come to terms with what this change in product/brand availability and landed cost will mean for their shopping habits.

Platitudes and attitudes.

Just as a Brexit agreement was being finalized, we asked consumers in France and Germany about their attitudes toward UK-based brands in mid-December (12/11).

  • Only about one-third of French consumers (38%) and less than half of German consumers (43%) say they’ve never purchased products online from UK brands, and don’t expect to start now. That means that the clear majority of consumers in these two countries will see a material impact from Brexit on their online buying behavior.
  • What do continental Europeans feel will be the impact? 
  • 9% of French consumers and 11% of Germans expect to stop purchasing from UK brands.
  • 14% of both French and German consumers say they will purchase less from UK brands.
  • Meanwhile, approximately one-third of French (34%) and German (29%) consumers expect there to be no impact from Brexit on their purchasing behaviors.

Net-net, our BOXpoll research indicates that Brexit will have an adverse impact on approximately 1 in 4 French and German consumers’ UK-based purchasing habits.


Where will these consumers go? It seems very likely they will turn to US brands.

A staggering 80% of French consumers and 71% of German consumers report having made a cross-border purchase from a US-based brand since the start of the pandemic.

French and German consumers report making an average of 37% and 30%, respectively, of their online purchases from US brands.

Among those 1 in 4 French and German consumers who plan to buy less from UK brands, the average amount purchased from US brands is higher (32% vs. %25 for others), indicating a notable opportunity for US brands to benefit from Brexit-driven purchase behaviors.

Meanwhile, across, the channel, 75% of UK consumers report buying from US brands during the pandemic, amounting to an average of 35% of total online purchases per consumer. This segment is also likely to increase with the introduction of new duties and regulations that will arrive with Brexit.

Bottom line? Stay tuned.

It took 1,645 days for the UK and the EU to reach an agreement, so we don’t expect to know the full impact of changes to consumer shopping habits overnight. Next month, we’re delving into international perceptions (how timely!) of the US, and we’ll be checking back in over the next few months on Brexit.

BOXpollTM by Pitney Bowes, a weekly consumer survey on current events, culture,and ecommerce logistics. Conducted by Pitney Bowes with Morning Consult //2094 US consumers surveyed December 2020.© Copyright 2020 Pitney Bowes Inc.

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