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Opinion: Kirsty Kean of Visual Thinking on how to achieve in-store success when expanding internationally

 

International growth can be complicated but the most common pitfalls can be avoided. From the outset, for example, retailers should make sure they don't assume that what works at home will also work elsewhere.

Rather than simply replicating what they do at home, it is vital for brands that VM, products and overall shopper experience reflects tastes, styles and shopper preferences in different locations.

In some cases it can be the smallest differences that help a retailer connect with an overseas audience. At the luxury end of the market, for example, French shoppers expect garments to be folded in tissue paper, which is not always a common practice in the UK. Italian shoppers tend to study window displays for much longer and like each item to be priced individually. In Japan it is common for sales staff to follow you to the door after you have completed your purchase, offering sincere thanks as you walk away.

Fine tune retail policies pre-launch . . . and align to local markets

Ahead of a launch, and in the months that follow, it is essential that brands adapt to meet the needs of the local market – something that has been successfully implemented by Japanese fashion retailer Uniqlo. The brand, which had previously failed to take off in the UK, has just opened a flagship store on London’s Oxford Street and while the clean simplicity taps into its Japanese heritage, it is also distinctly British thanks to its newWearHouse concept space. Giving shoppers a completely different experience of the brand, its vintage tiles and cycling props are designed to appeal to a creative London audience.

Communicate and translate

Existing retail communications may work well for UK shoppers but they always need to be adapted for an overseas audience. A retailer could, for instance, have a 100-year history, but people in a new location may not be familiar with it. Websites, social media channels and printed materials should therefore be tailored to shoppers in different locations, helping them to learn about the brand and understand its values.

It is also essential that retail documents are translated into local languages. Retailers should never assume that shoppers understand English; instead they should speak to them in their own language to build those all-important relationships.

Focus on team development

When a retailer opens in a new location it is not uncommon for the store to become a ‘Head Office circus’. But once the store is live, and the UK-based staff members leave, the support sometimes finishes - apart from the occasional relationship management meeting.

This means that the post-opening period is crucial for bedding in store concepts and values, especially if trading gets off to a flying start. Without a focus on learning, a store team can quickly develop bad habits that become hard to shift. In the immediate months after launching, retailers must work to maintain the high standards seen at the opening by keeping staff motivated.

It is often during the post-launch period that store teams need the most support – and training at this time is more effective because it can be based on real-life scenarios and issues they have faced.

Retailers may spot cracks starting to appear but by offering practical solutions they are unlikely to turn into irreparable crevasses. By sharing these experiences with everyone, including head office, stores and field management, important lessons can be learned.

Kirsty Kean is a senior retail consultant at Visual thinking

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