Q&A: Ben Cohen, COO, Airvat
A former City executive with a passion for technology, Ben is at the forefront of Airvat’s efforts to revolutionise the tax refund industry.
What does your company do? / What is your USP?
Airvat is a digital tax refund operator helping British retailers offer next generation VAT refunds service to tourists.
What’s special about the platform and your approach?
Not much innovation has taken place over the past 20-30 years in a way VAT refunds are provided to tourists. The process is still heavily bureaucratic and time consuming for both retailers and customers. Additionally tourists would often complain about the high fees charged for the service.
Airvat has completely transformed how tax-free shopping works making it simple for retailers to upsell to tourists.
How does a product/service implementation actually look like and how do you measure success?
Currently a retailer wishing to offer tax-free shopping has to train staff, perform customer eligibility checks, print tax refund forms, and deal with customer queries. In short, it is complicated.
We have automated all this. To get started, all a retailer needs to do is display the Airvat sign in their store to direct customers to download the VAT refund mobile app.
We also offer tax-free shopping as a service via our open APIs to larger retailers as well as other partners such as payment processors and acquirers.
How are retailers using your systems gain competitive advantage?
Historically, VAT refunds have been mainly offered in London’s high-end stores. Even the largest UK retailer would typically struggle to equip all of their tills with special VAT refund ePOS systems or dedicate sufficient staff in busy stores to fully support the tax refund service.
Airvat technology changes all this. Now even a small village shop can instantly start participating in the scheme. Large chains can also benefit by freeing themselves from the admin burden of offering VAT refunds.
What advantage does it add?
Retailers get all the benefits of being able to offer tax-free shopping without the red tape of the scheme. Also tourists love the lower fees and digital experience of managing the process on their mobile phone.
What challenges and opportunities do you see in UK retail for 2021 / What challenges are retailers facing in 2020?
Social distancing is forcing retailers to accelerate their digital transformation and we hope to help them achieve more efficiencies with our solution.
We also think that, despite its challenges, Brexit will bring a huge boost to the UK High Street as the number of customers eligible for tax-free shopping is expected to increase from January 2021 to 39 million with a total annual retail spending of £8 billion. Being able to offer digital tax-free shopping will be crucial to seizing this opportunity.
What is on the horizon for you as a company?
In the next 4-7 years, we expect most countries across the world to complete their tax digitalisation programmes. Also more governments are recognising the wider economic benefits of offering tourists VAT refunds, with China and Russia being the latest example. We anticipate that favourable public policy environment will help our international expansion plans beyond the UK in the coming years.
Company name and location: Airvat ltd, 20-22 Wenlock Road, London, England, N1 7GU
Key contact: Ben Cohen, COO
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