With Brexit’s uncertain impact looming in the background, many UK retail brands are playing it safe regarding international expansion. Not UK fashion retailer Topshop. They’ve recently announced plans to open five new stores in China this year, hoping to build on its strong reputation in the UK.
Of course, international expansion of any kind comes with specific challenges that require the right approach, regardless of the market type. ASOS and M&S are two examples of successful UK retailers that missed the mark when expanding into China, ultimately scaling back operations when they met obstacles. Their experiences serve as a stark reminder that success in one country does not necessarily translate to another. You should understand the consumers in your new market and be willing to adapt your message.
TopShop is getting help from Chinese ecommerce site partner Shangpin.com – a smart first step to gain access to the market. But it’s just the first step. If you are thinking about taking your brand overseas here are three critical considerations.
Forget Everything You Think You Know
One thing we’ve learned about ecommerce over the years is that the one-size-fits-all strategy rarely lays the foundations for long-term success. Each new market has its own nuances, which retailers must consider to attract and retain new customers. And while you can learn from your home market experiences, they won’t apply unilaterally to the new market. Every part of the strategy is fair game for an on-the-fly adjustment.
Success comes down to understanding the individual market and consumer tastes and reflecting those local preferences within your go-to-market strategy. In a commerce era where we are flooded with customer data, there truly is no excuse for not gathering and adjusting to this data. For Topshop, the Shangpin.com partnership should help them understand the habits and behaviours of Chinese consumers.
Be Unique. Be Bold. Be Inexpensive
Recent research into global ecommerce revealed that two main reasons consumers buy from a retailer outside of their home market is to obtain unique merchandise and buy for less money. It’s unlikely that anything sold in physical stores will be less expensive, but brands can still appeal to consumers by providing unique products. This not only draws consumers to the shop (or site), it also creates opportunity to build up the brand among local consumers. Part of Topshop’s appeal in China will certainly be the unique Western styles and fashion. The key is to provide these different looks while maintaining the fashion sense of the local market.
Focus on Customer Service
Many brands have put so much effort into growing a successful local marketplace, they can forget that their homegrown reputation for service and value doesn’t mean as much when expanding to another country. They must start over at the beginning. The best way to quickly gain a good reputation is to deliver exemplary customer service at each point of the customer journey. This creates trust in the new market, while demonstrating that the brand can meet the unique needs of the local consumers. Even simple things, such as ensuring shop floors are clean, can make the difference when it comes to overall impressions with customers. For ecommerce-centric brands, they should be transparent and clear about all extra costs (like shipping). And making returns or exchanges simple will also help build your reputation for delivering high quality customer service and a seamless shopping experience.
In fact, the checkout process should be a core focus for customer service whether online or in-store. It is the one piece of the process that every customer is guaranteed to experience – and it is also the point most likely to result in abandoned carts (real and virtual). Topshop’s decision to manage the physical expansion itself, while working with Shangpin.com on the online side should help it understand local payment systems and barriers to completing the sale.
Succeeding with any international expansion project is never easy and certainly not guaranteed. But paying attention to details like customer service, seeking out the right partners and focusing on what makes you unique should allow you to leverage the untapped potential of a new market.
About Saima Alibhai
Saima Alibhai has over 10 years of experience in the marketing technology industry, working alongside clients internationally in the UK, Europe and Latin America.