What will a hard Brexit mean for UK online shoppers? In a nutshell – higher costs and most likely a different shopping experience.

Everyone’s got their favourite hard Brexit supply chain horror story, be it rotting fruit and veg piling up at customs borders, vital hospital equipment failing to arrive on time for life-critical operations, butter mountains at the Irish border or empty shelves at the local supermarket.

But while most hard Brexit scenarios are focused on predicting the impact on the physical supply chain, spare a thought for online retailers who are also facing their own set of uncertainties. And should a hard Brexit come to pass, then online shoppers in the UK are likely to notice a subtle change in their shopping experience.

EU’s anti-geo-blocking rules

Towards the end of last year, new anti-geo-blocking digital shopping rules came into force across the EU. The new regulation stipulates that all online buyers from across the EU block of 28 member states should be treated equally, with equal access to a business’ online catalogue as digital shoppers originating from the same state.

In practice, that means cross-border digital shoppers will be offered the same shopping experience and transaction conditions, fees, promotions and access to a digital retailer’s online store.

As an example, the regulation makes sure that a UK digital shopper looking at a Norwegian specialist ski-wear business’ online shop, will not be directed to a foreign site, or be displayed different promotions, fees or shopping conditions as a digital shopper hailing from Norway.

Brexit impact on technology

To be sure, the regulation has created significant difficulties for many European online businesses, as the practice of treating cross-border digital shoppers to a variant experience has been, until recently, fairly common. Frequently, cross-border digital shoppers have been re-routed to a different website, with a different portfolio and shopping conditions.

For the remaining markets of the EU, the shopping experience will become more aligned in the future, as online retailers look to streamline their online stores and shopping journeys, to be true to the spirit of the EU’s new digital shopping regulation.

In the event of a hard Brexit, however, many of these online stores may simply decide to table the creation of separate sites and conditions for non-EU shoppers for a later date, prioritising the EU’s mandate first.

That could lead to delays in the provisioning of different websites and promotions for cross-border shoppers. Fluctuations in UK sterling currency and exchange rates may exacerbate delays further, as could complications in the creation of new import duties as the UK loses its free trade agreement with the EU.