Retailers require global supply chains that are highly efficient, agile and sustainable in order to ensure they can meet consumer demands when expanding into new territories, according to Sonja Slottke, business development executive at Deutsche Post DHL.

Slottke, who will be speaking at the International Retail Franchising Summit (IRFS) at London's Olympia on 11 March, also suggests that Germany is a key market for businesses looking to grow on an international scale.

Ahead of IRFS, where the heads of international at companies such as WH Smith, Hamley's and Mothercare are all scheduled to speak as part of an illustrious conference programme, Essential Retail caught up with Slottke to hear her thoughts on the globalisation of retail.

What would be your top 3 pieces of advice for retailers looking to expand abroad? 

In such competitive times, a customer-centric approach is key and should be at the heart of everything you do – that should come first.

On a more practical note, expansion of any business into foreign lands comes with many aspects that must be considered. These include customs clearance, ensuring local currency transparency, not to mention a reliable, cost effective and simple returns solution.

Treat expansion the same way you would treat anything new within your business. Use a trusted, experienced and recognised provider. These challenges are not reasons to avoid overseas expansion, but opportunities to be embraced.  Providing a great combination of these services can be the differentiator your products may need, an extension of your business and its wares.

Thinking specifically about supply chain, what is the biggest challenge for retailers when entering new international territories?

Consumers expect a vast array of products to be constantly available in local stores and online – all at the right time, at the right price. To achieve this, consumer goods companies need global supply chains that are highly efficient, agile, and sustainable.

Continuously improving, our wide-ranging solutions help organisations to address their most complex, pressing operational needs from transportation to management services. I am proud to say that our global reach in this area is second to none.

Which territories do you think show the most growth potential for today's retailers?

The UK has one of the most mature online markets in the world. E-retail has risen 39% over the last five years. Across Europe, UK spend leads the way and an average of 18 online purchases are made per year by e-shoppers with only Germany slightly ahead at 18.1. In fact, when comparing the UK to any other market place it is Germany which appears far more often as our 'twin'.

Our online users buy more on mobile devices than anywhere else within Europe as well as having the top eCommerce annual turnover. Our economies are experiencing similar growth patterns and hopeful sustainability within their respective territories. More and more European consumers are buying more items online than they do in store. A fifth of Brits now do that, while in Germany it's already one in four consumers that buy more online than offline. If success breeds success then with some carefully planned marketing, I would focus any overseas expansion into Germany. For me, it's that simple.

This is really a key area for me at the summit: introducing new franchisees to another DHL solution – our Direct Marketing product suite, covering everything you need for cross boarder marketing.

Tell us the three key retail industry focus areas for DHL this year?

At DHL we enjoy the challenge of supporting our customers with whatever they need – that is the focus. We know that eCommerce will continue to thrive and it is a top priority that we shall continue to develop and invest in our people and our technology to support this growth.

2015 will also see DHL further utilising our group partner, Deutsche Post DHL. Supporting retail companies to profile, identify and address their target groups in new markets is really where we can make an immediate improvement and our colleagues at Deutsche Post are leading the way in Europe in this area so naturally, we want to make these solutions available to our customers in the UK.

We also understand that we must continue to offer environmentally sound solutions, and that we continue to set the corporate example for excellence. We recognise and embrace our responsibility to make a positive contribution to society and the environment.

Why should retailers attend the International Retail Franchising Summit at this year's RBTE?

2015 is forecast to be the biggest yet for eCommerce growth in the UK with online sales expected to peak well above last year's £45 billion. Never has there been such a wide and varied audience.

Online demand for fashion is at an all-time high with the UK's market share in homeware ranked the highest in the world, obtaining marketing share is essential. The International Retail Franchising Summit provides a great opportunity for seeking out solutions. With a spring in its step, the UK economy is on the march and this year’s conference could not be coming at a better time. We look forward to seeing you there.

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