United Kingdom - Country Commercial Guide
Selling Factors and Techniques

Identifies common practices to be aware of when selling in this market, e.g., whether all sales material need to be in the local language.

Last published date: 2021-09-22

Overview

Typically, U.S. companies enter the UK market through distribution, franchising, or licensing agreements, or through direct foreign investment.  National legislation governs exclusivity in agency and supply agreements, purchasing contracts, and contract terms. U.S. manufacturers and exporters are generally able to appoint exclusive representatives and to determine the methods used to promote the sale of their products. Such exclusive territories are usually national in size.

Sales practices that give regulatory concern are those that could give an unfair advantage to the supplier at the expense of competitors or end users. A consultation document published in June 2021 by the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) outlines proposed changes to competition law on vertical agreements. EU guidelines on Vertical Restraints, which were transposed into UK law prior to Brexit, will remain in place until May 2022.

The Trade Finance Guide provides an overview of finance techniques for U.S. exporters, from cash-in-advance to government assisted foreign buyer financing.

Trade Promotion and Advertising

Most of the same sales and advertising techniques used in the United States are used in the United Kingdom, although companies are advised to work closely with their UK partners to account for any local differences.  All advertising to consumers and business must comply with UK marketing and advertising regulations and codes of practice.

 A listing on a local Featured U.S. Exporters (FUSE) website gives U.S. exporters targeted overseas exposure to help find business partners in specific local markets.

The Single Company Promotion (SCP), a U.S. Commercial Service program, is designed to help promote a U.S. company or local partner’s existing presence in an overseas market. The SCP provides an opportunity to promote products or services and facilitate networking opportunities.  It can be customized and can take the form of events, such as business roundtables, seminars or receptions.

UK Trade Fair Venues

ExCel London

Manchester Central Manchester

National Exhibition Centre (NEC) Birmingham

Olympia London

Scottish Event Campus (SEC) Glasgow, Scotland

U.S. companies are advised to visit the U.S. Commercial Service website or work with their local partners to identify industry specific trade exhibitions or trade publications.  

Newspapers

Financial Times

The Guardian

The Independent

The Telegraph

The Times & Sunday Times

TV/Cable Channels

BBC One, Two, Three and Four

ITV

Channel 4

Sky TV

High Street TV

QVC - The Shopping Channel

A list of TV and cable providers can be found on the Office of Communications (Ofcom) web site.

Pricing

Value Added Tax (VAT), a sales tax, must be charged on most goods and services sold in the UK.  The standard VAT rate for most products is 20%.  A reduced rate of 5% or zero rate is applied to a small number of goods and services, such as mobility aids, books, or children’s clothes.

Consignments valued at £135 ($184) or less are subject to new tax rules. The new directive for these transactions is that VAT must be collected at the point of sale rather than on import. Therefore U.S. based businesses selling goods directly to UK consumers are required to register for VAT. In cases where a business customer is VAT registered in the UK and provides a valid VAT registration number to the seller, the VAT will be accounted for by the customer by means of a reverse charge. Consignments over the value of £135 ($184) will remain subject to existing rules where VAT is payable on import.  Additional information can be found on the HM Revenue and Customs web site.  Notice 700/1: Who should register for VAT offers more guidance on who should register for VAT.

Product prices on goods sold direct to consumers must be clearly labelled in sterling currency and be inclusive of VAT.  Any addition fees, such as delivery or postal charges, should also be included or, if shown separately, clearly displayed.

Companies selling goods or services direct to consumer must comply with Consumer Protection from Unfair Trading Regulations 2008, among other consumer rights legislation, and Business Protection from Misleading Marketing Regulations 2008, if selling to other businesses.  Both statutes prohibit false or misleading pricing information.

Sales Service/Customer Support

U.S. companies and local representatives are required to comply with raft of legislation and guidance relating to sale of goods and services and customer support. Key pieces of legislation include the Consumer Rights Act (2015), which was recently updated to include rights for consumers purchasing digital content, the Consumer Protection Act (1987) for defective products, and Consumer Contracts Regulations 2013 relating to online shopping rights.  EU law already been incorporated into national law, such as the EU Data Protection Act 2018 (GDPR) which was implemented into national legislation through the UK Data Protection Act (2018), will be retained following the UK’s departure from the EU.

Local Professional Services

Visit the UK Business Service Providers (BSP) directory for a list of professional service providers that offer legal, accounting, human resources, trade show and marketing services. 

Principal Business Associations

  • British American Business (BAB) transatlantic trade association that consists of a network of around 400 U.S. and UK companies.  It has offices in New York and London.
  • British American Business Council (BABC) transatlantic business network.  BABC has 22 Chapters and 2,000 members across the U.S. and UK.
  • Confederation of British Industry (CBI) influential UK business organization that represents 700 company members and a broader network of non-members via various trade associations. CBI lobbies on behalf of its members on national and international business issues.
  • Institute of Directors (IOD) a business organization for of senior business owners and entrepreneurs.  Members must be company directors. 
  • The Federation of Small Businesses (FSB) represents and supports small to medium-sized businesses.  Membership is open to international businesses that have operations in the UK.