Author Archives: Erica Yinbo

“We have a deal!” But where to next?

Just as fears of a no-deal Brexit were reaching their peak, news came from Brussels yesterday that a deal is finally reached.

Last Thursday Boris Johnson, the prime minister of the UK, had a semi-formal meeting with Leo Varadkar in the Thornton Manor. Although no one really expected this would lead to any kind of breakthrough, the results were rather surprising. When the two came out of the private meeting room with a smile, declaring that they see “a pathway to a deal”, the exchange rate of pound sterling gained more than 2% against the US dollar on that very day. One week later, the EU passed the new Brexit deal.

Yesterday was definitely a day to remember in both the UK and the EU’s history, but after the cheerful moment, we need to stop and think about what could happen next, and what the implications are.

Firstly, the deal is not final. It did pass a difficult hurdle – coming to an agreement with the EU. However, the hard journey through the British parliament has just begun. Boris Johnson has two days to seek allies before the unusual “Super Saturday” session in the House of Commons. Although Boris believes the deal is of the best interest for both parties and is quite confident about the results of the voting, analysts hold different opinions. Sporting Index, a lottery company who successfully predicted the results of previous Brexit votes, have sent out an email estimating the “Yes” vote would be 313 while Boris needs 320 to pass the deal in the British parliament.

In one scenario, the deal will be passed in the British Parliament this Saturday. This will mean no hard border between Ireland and Northern Ireland, and the rights of EU citizens in the UK will be protected (as will those of UK citizens living in the EU). The UK will leave the customs union as a whole, while Northern Ireland will still remain an “entry point”. For most of us life will remain the same, except we might notice that grocery shopping seems a bit more expensive. Establishing the UK to EU “entry point” on the island is set to make Ireland more of a focus area between the two, which will give rise to both opportunities and challenges. Dublin had already seen big names such as Travelers Insurance Company moving its European business to Ireland to avoid risks associated with Brexit. If the deal is passed and Brexit is official, more London-based international companies will start seeking new bases in the EU, and Ireland is no doubt one of the most appealing options.

If the deal is not passed by the House of Commons, the Benn Act will require the PM to seek an extension of the Brexit date from the EU. For businesses in the UK, this will amount to another period of uncertainty and continuous economic stagnation. For the past three years, uncertainty has caused numerous British companies and investors to suffer, and has seen the bankruptcy of long-standing companies such as Thomas Cook. The Benn Act may appear to be inconsequential for the EU from a political perspective – or even beneficial. However, given the significance of the UK in the global market, the ramifications of further uncertainty for businesses operating there may result in harm for industry in the EU.

Luckin Coffee: Legend or failing unicorn?

Luckin Coffee was founded in 2017, yet has already established more than 3000 wholly-owned shops in China. The coffee chain successfully completed its IPO in the US this March, only 18 months after the founding of the company, raising $561 million. You may have never heard the name, but it is quickly becoming a key competitor in the ~$10 billion Chinese Coffee retail industry, and threatens the current leading player, Starbucks.

   To differentiate themselves from Starbucks, Luckin Coffee self-describes as a Coffee-Network or Coffee Technology Corporation. In its prospectus, the word “technology” appears 88 times, followed by the third most used word “network”, which appears 79 times.

Technology is clearly the key to its operations. Luckin states that AI enables them to analyse their customers’ behaviour and select better services and products tailored for each individual based on big data. The Luckin Coffee app also plays a major part in their operations. In fact, all purchases of Luckin Coffee are made through its apps (iOS, Android and Wechat’s built-in-apps), and no cashier can be found in any of its shops.

   As opposed to the company itself, the founder of Luckin is probably more famous. Zhiya Qian, the former COO of CAR (China Auto Rental), is known for leading the “subsidy war” in China’s car rental industry and won a large market share for the company. She strongly believes that her success in the car rental industry can be replicated in the fast-growing Coffee retail industry.

   The inner logic of this marketing model is simple. The initial approach is characterised by the use of large amounts of subsidies to break into an industry, in order to build customer loyalty and seize market share with rapid expansion. Having achieved this, the company makes use of “internet thinking” and reduce subsidies to turn losses into gains when most of the other competitors are no longer competitive. Luckin is still in the first stage, as it is still quickly opening more shops and offering huge discounts such as 81%-offs, and pricing the cost of a cup at around 1 euro to attract customers (while the general price per cup is between €4 and €6). The money burning strategy is no doubt doing its job, but the problem is how long can it last?

   In the financial statements from the prospectus, for the three months ended 1st March 2019, Luckin’s total revenue reached $713 million. However, the net loss is $110 million higher. This financial data is a dangerous signal that the speed of growth of the company might not be able to justify the money they have been burning in a foreseeable period of time. Data shows that if Luckin continues losing money at this rate, the company’s cash flow will be in severe danger and may not survive for another two quarters. This may be one of the reasons driving this start-up to rush to hold an IPO. Despite its financial state, Luckin still holds a positive attitude towards its strategy, claiming they will not slow down the rapid chain growth and will continue subsidising its products.

Last month, reporters found some Luckin Coffee shops have started to sell “convenience store food”. Meanwhile the company updated its business scope, adding clothes, shoes, hats etc to its product line. Is this a sign that Luckin Coffee is transforming into a comprehensive new retail chain to save its cash flow? The answer will be seen in no time.