Given the dire economic tidings coming from the United States and
the less drastic but still discouraging reports from the
Continent, UK businesses might think twice before expanding
overseas just now. But not so two cataloguers/retailers: Evans
Plus-size fashion merchant Evans is launching a direct operation
in the US with the moniker Evans London. American trade
publication Women’s Wear Daily reported that more than 1
million catalogues will be dropped in August, followed by the
launch of a transactional website. At press time
www.EvansLondon.com was still redirecting customers to the UK
site, though a welcome message announced the availability of
delivery to the US.
Meanwhile, fashion and home decor merchant Next (which also
launched its Brand Directory website this month-a standalone site
selling branded goods) has opened up a European website,
Vive la difference
Marketers in the US are facing a tough time, much worse than in
the UK according to industry pundits. In February alone high-tech
gadgets cataloguer/retailer Sharper Image and gifts mailer
Lillian Vernon filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection. In
addition, Limited Brands, the parent company of women’s fashion
cataloguer/retailer Victoria’s Secret, issued a profits warning
after operating income tumbled from $726.8 million in the fourth
quarter of fiscal 2006 to $621.4 million for fiscal 2007. Another
US women’s apparel merchant, Coldwater Creek, posted a net loss
of $2.5 million for fiscal 2007, compared with a net income of
$55.4 million for fiscal 2006.
David Ballard, managing director of US consultancy Ballard
Direct, concedes that the current economic climate in the States
is by no means “a plus”. But he believes that if an
offer is distinctive enough it can succeed there, even now.
“I don’t want to seem blas� about the economy, but if you
have the right thing at the right time you can do well,” he
told Catalogue/e-business. And he thinks that Evans’
product offering may well be distinct enough from that of the
“dozen significant plus-size catalogues” already in
the US. He noted the recent success of other UK cataloguers
across the Atlantic, “Boden and Wrap are doing well because
they look different. It’s the same with Charles Tyrwhitt when it
launched in the US. It was offering something new and
Iain MacDonald, principal of UK-based Casa Consulting, was less
bullish about Evans’ prospects. Bearing in mind the exchange rate
and market volatility, MacDonald said that it will need some very
good margins and order values to be able to succeed in the
States. “One might need convincing that this will
work,” he said.
Dipping a toe in the water
MacDonald is more optimistic about Next’s European venture.
“Next understands direct marketing better than retailer
who’s best known for its high street operations,” he said.
In some ways, though, Next’s European site doesn’t follow best
practice for marketing overseas. Although the site currently is
offering delivery only to Spain-with delivery to Portugal,
Germany and France “coming soon” -all product copy,
order and privacy information and help menus are in English.
Prices are in euros, however.
The European site seemed like “toe-in-the-water
operation”, MacDonald said. “Perhaps this is all a
MacDonald felt that “it would be more profitable [for both
Evans and Next] to concentrate on the home market.” But
Ballard countered, “If you can answer the question ‘What
makes me different?’ then you can be successful.”
In fact, he added, that philosophy holds true at home as well as
away. “Unless a company can differentiate itself from the
other me-too offerings it will continue to find trading
tough.” -Miri Thomas