International expansion tips from retailers with experience

Essential Retail was at an event in Paris this week where we heard the online sales director at women's fashion retailer Mango speak of retail opportunities in "every country", and the founder of men's online fashion business highlight a willingness to battle with local market leaders.

Mango's Roger Graell told delegates at the event that he views his company as a global brand, operating in 110 countries worldwide, and he says anything is possible with the right approach to international expansion.

"There is opportunity in every single market," he explained.

"When you look at market dynamics you'll see there are markets with higher numbers but the potential as a brand to become relevant, I think, is equal across countries."

France-based's Marc Menase said that when his company launched in 2010 it was quick to translate its website into English and launch in the UK because "online is everywhere". It then developed a German web platform "to bring style to Germany" and compete with the likes of Zalando.

"If you tell me that German people are good on process, I say 'yes'. If you tell me that German people are good on style, I say 'no'," he joked, before saying people told him it was a brave decision to take on fashion market leader in Germany, Zalando.

Offering some tips on his strategy when entering new countries, Menase said: "We brought in the UK a more Latino flavour with Italian and French brands which didn't have a good representation in the market." has also opened offices in Barcelona, where it runs some customer and marketplace services, partly because of the local people's attitude to fashion.

Graell added: "Localisation doesn't have an end. You can localise as much as you want – starting from price, or [how the weather can be different in separate parts of a country]. You have to decide how far you want to localise your business."

The Mango online sales director also advised businesses looking to expand abroad to create relevant media partnerships and consider the search engine they use at home may not have the same pertinence in a new territory. In Russia, for example, he cited Yandex as the market leader in this space – not Google or Amazon.

The retailers were talking as part of a series of live roundtable debates and presentations taking place at eCommerce Day in Paris – an event hosted by eCommerce automation platform provider Lengow. Throughout the day, delegates were offered advice and told of successful case studies related to expanding a brand in international markets.

Key components of successfully launching outside a retailer's home country depend on such things as exploring the opportunities presented by online marketplaces, knowing what digital marketing strategy works in each country and choosing the correct search engine and payments provider to work alongside.

In a separate panel debate, Andre Patrzek, director of marketing and sales at online German sports brand Keller Sports, said his business has used e-marketplaces "to launch in new countries much quicker", adding: "We can try and test how a native audience reacts to our products."

Ben Greenaway, senior manager for omnichannel at Adidas, acknowledged marketplaces as just one part of the sports equipment manufacturer's "omnichannel" offering, but underlined social media as a significant brand awareness generator with certain shared videos receiving "millions of views".

"Intuitively we know it's good for the brand. It's good for the consumers as well – they want that social engagement."

Tony Qui, managing director for Chinese online marketplace's JD Worldwide proposition, promoted China as a significant opportunity for retailers looking to broaden their horizons. It is no secret that the country, whose citizens Qui said have a strong desire to buy European brands, is on the radar of many western retailers – but this year saw China's online-using population reach more than double the number of people living in the US.

Marketplaces such as – and the largest player in China, Alibaba – present retailers with partner platforms that are used by millions of people in China every day, and which are naturally close to the local consumer. But Qui warned international businesses new to the Chinese retail market should beware the "much faster" frequency of digital marketing required there and the need to consider increasingly popular social channels – such as WeChat – as routes to gaining shoppers' attention.

Earlier this week, UK retailer Whittard of Chelsea said its launch on Alibaba's Tmall Global online marketplace in July is already garnering some positive results. There are currently 29 Whittard of Chelsea products available on the site with English Rose Tea and Luxury Hot Chocolate currently the customer favourites. Sainsbury's is another example of a UK retailer exploring this particular route to market.

Brexit impact

The topic of UK voters' decision to leave the European Union (EU) cropped up in discussions during the day, too, with retailers assessing how the subsequent drop in sterling value after the referendum had impacted their businesses. Although there was no suggestion or Mango had seen a dramatic change in UK business since the 'Brexit' decision, there was a feeling retailers are monitoring the UK political scene ahead of the planned official UK withdrawal from the EU.

Menase said his company was protected because it buys in euros but noted "the landscape has changed" and, recently in the UK, the operation has been increasing its efforts to achieve the same level of business as before.

Graell added: "I think that currency changes are just part of the business – you just have to deal with it.

"There are some years we can get value from it and another year we have to adjust something. It's part of our business – we operate in 110 countries. We have to make sure our business survives and grows with [currency fluctuations]."

Click below for more information: