International news: retail trends from around the world

"Unless you are an iconic brand – typically a luxury company like a Chanel or a Burberry – whereby the customer is buying the specific signature of the brand, it becomes much more difficult for retailers to go international."

The quote above from Richard Traish, senior partner at business consultancy Kurt Salmon, would suggest the journey retailers take when moving outside their home territories can often be somewhat arduous.

Big grocery companies such as Tesco and Marks & Spencer (M&S) have had their fair share of setbacks when looking beyond Britain's shores, with the former's recently abandoned Fresh & Easy venture a case in point and M&S's continental withdrawal at the start of this century yet further evidence. Equally, though, there have been recent examples of these two businesses – and others – undertaking different strategies and achieving significant success in new parts of Europe.

Fundamentally, it comes down to retailers knowing their marketplace – and technology can play a major role in providing companies with this knowledge, whether it is research via social media or entering a market for the first time through eCommerce. Essential Retail has taken a look at some of the differences they may encounter in continental Europe and the wider world?


As Planet Retail research director Malcolm Pinkerton explained in his Essential Retail column this week, The Drive concept – where customers pick up online orders in their cars – is most advanced in France.

For larger companies looking to open stores in France, this would need to be a fulfilment process that is given serious consideration.

As Pinkerton said, however, the system is beginning to take root in other markets, too, with Tesco and Asda rolling out their respective versions in the UK, and Colruyt and Carrefour leading the way in Belgium, so there are signs that the process is becoming more mainstream.

On the subject of France, Traish put forward Carrefour as a retailer that has been successful internationally, with the business profitable in its overseas operations and now holding a presence in 35 countries worldwide.

"The reason for this is that when it enters a new country it adopts a bottom-up philosophy," explained Traish, who has more than 25 years' experience working with retailers across the globe."It will build a store and bring in a team that builds up a store based on local ranges to fit its customer, and once they have that model right they expand.

"Technology can play a role in this, too, to help retailers understand what is working well in terms of merchandising and how they might aggregate that up into a sensible assortment plan."

Wider Europe

One major trend to be aware of in the German retail space is that credit cards are not the favoured form of payment; there is a heavy focus on cash transactions. A Bundesbank survey on payment behaviour, published at the end of last year, found that 7.4% of all transactions in Germany in 2011 were paid by credit card, which although double 2007's figure is still some way behind other western nations.

Customers paying cash on delivery might provide something of a culture shock for businesses more familiar with conducting their online payment process entirely digitally, and it is simple practical differences like these that retailers will have to adapt to if they are to succeed in the country.

"Cash is big, so companies here need to be able to accommodate cash management into their business models," noted Traish.

In fact, it was clear from the conversations held on the expo floor at leading retail technology solutions event RBTE in March that retailers are keen to hear about best practice from other nations, whether it is to learn about potential new markets or simply to take examples of good retailing back home.

Visitors to the show in London came from across Europe and further around the world, with retailers representing Scandinavia, the Netherlands and southern European nations such as Spain and Greece all in attendance, as well as companies from as far afield as Brazil.

For companies looking to expand abroad, perhaps an even greater challenge is in understanding the stark differences in consumer taste between neighbouring countries that share many cultural habits.

Kurt Salmon's Traish used the lingerie market as an example of how Italy and Spain – both warm, predominantly Roman Catholic countries – differ considerably when it comes to consumer trends.

"You'd think that if you had a good lingerie offer that worked in one, it would work in the other, but actually taste is very different," he explained.

"The average Spanish woman has very sober taste, but the Italians are much more into lacy products. They are worlds apart - which is bizarre."

Middle East

Recent research by global consultancy AT Kearney suggested that western apparel retailers continue to look to developing markets for growth, with China and United Arab Emirates (UAE) dubbed the leading developing regions for market attractiveness in the company's latest Retail Apparel Index.

AT Kearney found that UAE (second), Kuwait (fourth), and Saudi Arabia (sixth) were attractive for retailers, with many companies testing their operations in the former before expanding to other Middle East countries. Notable apparel openings in UAE in 2012 included Level Shore District, Prada, Muji, COS, Gap, Pomellato, Calvin Klein, Juicy Couture and Destination Maternity.

Traish said that Saudi Arabia is an attractive market because shopping or spending is one of the few leisure activities women can undertake freely in public, but he described dealing with some of the cultural differences as "a complete mind-shift" for foreign retailers.


Yke Veraart from Netherlands-based consultancy Veraart Research Group said that, alongside the UK, France is a leading nation in terms of the way it utilises retail technology.

"The French focus on quality, assortment, services and in lesser extend pricing. They are also leading in eCommerce pick-up points," he explained.

"Germany is totally focused on prices and cost cutting, while Benelux and Scandinavia prioritise the likes of eCommerce and usability."

It is no doubt with some of these patterns in mind that M&S launched a Belgian website in 2012, prior to unveiling eCommerce operations in Luxembourg and the Netherlands earlier this year.

Offering its range of fashion and food items, the British retailer has entered the Netherlands with a multichannel approach that includes a mobile-optimised site, a Dutch-language website serving customers across the country in euros and with local delivery and payment options. The store it has already opened in Kalverstraat includes many forward-thinking technologies, such as a virtual fashion rail, and this focus on innovation is set to continue when it opens stores in The Hague and Amsterdam in 2014 and 2015 respectively.

Laura Wade-Gery, executive director for eCommerce & multichannel at M&S, said in April: "The Netherlands has embraced online shopping – customers adore the ease and convenience of buying clothes this way, which is why we were determined to return with our very latest multichannel thinking."

In the way M&S seems to have paid considerable attention to local behaviours in the Netherlands, businesses looking to start serving foreign markets online must be prepared to deal with new currencies and alternative exchange rates associated with each country.

Justin Fraser, sales and marketing director at internet payments solutions firm SecureTrading, said that exchange rates "can cause a host of problems and confusion", while the different rates of duties and tax often added during the purchasing process also need to be considered.

"When targeting the global market via the internet the threat of online fraud increases dramatically, since these platforms provide miscreants with an extremely rewarding potential target," he explained.

"E-tailers should therefore ensure that anti-fraud measures are embedded into every element of their platform when expanding into this unknown market."

Whether it's consumer taste, culture, internet security or technological knowhow, there is evidently plenty to think about for companies expanding to new frontiers.

And as multichannel shopping continues to stretch to all areas of the globe, it will be the retail businesses that harness digital capabilities and identify the finer nuances associated with their new markets that will break down boundaries and ultimately enjoy success on an international scale.

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