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Imperial re-measurement would cost millions of pounds

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There’s not an ounce of sense in returning to imperial measurements, warns ParcelHero. The last thing struggling retailers need is more relabelling, while no one has had to calculate sending parcels in pounds and inches since 1975.

The news that the Government is considering legislation potentially forcing retailers to reintroduce imperial measurements is ‘immeasurably stupid’ says the international delivery expert ParcelHero.

On Friday, the Government’s Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) is expected to launch a 12-week consultation on reintroducing imperial measurements, such as pounds and ounces, either alongside or in place of metric measurements.

ParcelHero’s Head of Consumer Research, David Jinks M.I.L.T., says: ‘Timed to coincide with the nostalgia around the Queen’s Platinum Jubilee, the announcement will “exploit new Brexit freedoms”, claims the Government. However, such a move could cost millions if it means both relabelling products with metric and imperial weights, and changing how online retail sites calculate measurements.

‘Is there really a clamour for a return to imperial weights and measures? I was born in 1965, the same year the UK Government decided to adopt the metric system. Together with many people under the age of 60, I was never taught imperial measurements. The metric system was made compulsory in all schools in 1975.

‘This Monday, the Technology Minister, Chris Philp, told Sky News: “It’s allowing a bit of our national culture and heritage back onto the shop shelf.” Such nostalgia will come at a high price. Imagine the cost to retailers of enforcing labelling with both metric and imperial weights. The problems don’t just end on the supermarket shelf.  It would also introduce extra complexity and confusion to online retail, with new functionality needed to add imperial measures to all kinds of products for home delivery.

‘A return to imperial measurements will also introduce considerably more confusion to simple tasks such as shipping a parcel. The UK stopped compulsorily weighing and measuring parcels and letters in ounces and inches in 1975. Even if you are older than me and still think in imperial, that is still an option. ParcelHero’s website lets you switch between kg/cm and lb/in thanks to a clever widget, but its default setting is, of course, kg/cm. Imagine the confusion if shoppers had to recheck all measurements, metric or imperial, alongside correlating prices on every shelf and website.  

‘Such a return would also severely impact on those UK retailers and manufacturers still grimly trying to sell internationally. As well as new checks and taxes on UK products sold to the EU, websites would also have to reflect metric measurements for European sales and imperial for UK sales.

‘Of course, you could argue that the UK has less need for metric measurements as it tries to capitalise on new trade opportunities with the US, which has never embraced the metric system. Even that is more complicated than it sounds. For example, large commodities are sold by the hundredweight, but the US uses 100lb to every hundredweight and the UK 112lb. Likewise, pints and gallons are measured entirely differently between the two countries.

‘Surely, there are already enough confusing imperial measurements still clinging to life in the UK to satisfy traditionalists. Our road signs continue to read in miles, and we can buy milk and beer in pints. And there’s nothing to stop a pound of strawberries still being marked as such in your local market, providing the weight is also displayed in kg for anyone born after 1965 to understand. The EU had wanted the UK to stop using imperial units alongside the metric system, but it dropped that demand in 2007.

‘UK retailers and manufacturers are already facing a raft of new labelling requirements following the Government’s insistence that we diverge from EU product standards after Brexit. From 1 January 2023, many new British products sold in the UK will need to have packaging, marketing and stamping changed to show they meet UKCA (UK Conformity Assessed) regulations. In addition, it won’t be possible to sell UKCA-passed products within the EU without reassessment by EU bodies. The idea that British-made goods may have to meet two sets of regulations is a mark against so-called “Brexit freedoms” that, in fact, look set to create significant red tape for UK manufacturers.

‘Surely, “Global Britain” should be looking to the future to boost trade opportunities, not clutching at its Imperial past. ParcelHero’s in-depth analysis of the ongoing UK-EU trade problems, aside from the complexity of a return to imperial measurements, can be seen at:  https://www.parcelhero.com/research/brexit-study

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