International expansion top of retailers’ to-do lists


International expansion top of retailers’ to-do lists

For more multichannel marketers, expanding overseas is becoming a priority-to the point where they’re investing in expertise and infrastructure.

For instance, fashion etailer ASOS announced in March that finance director Jon Kamaluddin would become international director, charged with growing the company’s share of global sales; even without much of a corporate push, overseas sales had accounted for 19.5 per cent of ASOS’ turnover for the year ended 31st March.

In July promotional products supplier 4imprint launched a euro-priced website for the Irish market, and it has an Irish direct mail drop scheduled for this month. The Irish website marks 4imprint’s entry into its fourth country; it already has websites for and mails into the UK, the US, and Canada.

Just last month, apparel retailer/cataloguer White Stuff named Alastair Kerr as a nonexecutive director to advise on its international strategy. And footwear manufacturer/marketer Hotter Comfort Concept announced it is investing £3 million in upgrading its web infrastructure, building its UK retail presence, and yes, boosting its overseas presence. As a wholesaler, it has a distributor in South Africa, but managing director Stewart Houlgrave says the company, which targets the grey market, is planning a print, direct mail, and website test in the US “shortly”. Then there’s Craghoppers, TheBook Depository, Wiggle…

When more is more

At the very least, operating eCommerce sites in more than one country is a “smart move” for retailers, says Frank Lord, vice president, EMEA at eCommerce solutions provider ATG: “Adopting a global approach to eCommerce is far more sustainable than focusing on one country and provides retailers with the chance to exploit market opportunities as and when they arise.”

For The Book Depository, that chance arose this summer. Although it already generated more than half of its £62 million in sales internationally, the detailed launched a dedicated US site in July. Until then, international sales had been “evenly spread across 92 countries, with free delivery,” says managing director Kieron Smith, with good growth in Singapore, Continental Europe, and Australia. So it opted to steal a march on its rivals by opening its website to even more overseas customers, who may be more comfortable shopping from a US website. The Book Depository’s Stateside website also offers free shipping worldwide, but it differs from the British website by delivering regionalised content and merchandising. Orders are shipped from The Book Depository’s UK distribution centre in Gloucester, as well as via US wholesalers. The company uses a returns centre in San Francisco.

Outdoor apparel group Regatta is venturing across the Atlantic as well. The company tested US catalogues for its Craghoppers brand this past spring and will be doing more direct mail this autumn and Christmas. It also launched a US website in August for Craghoppers as well as for its Bear Grylls clothing range, retaining Salmon, the agency that worked on its UK websites.

According to Chris Bulmer, Regatta’s group IT director, the US trials showed that Craghoppers is a “natural fit” for US customers. Bill LaPierre, senior vice president at US list and marketing agency Direct Media/Millard, which worked on the US launch of the Craghoppers catalogue, believes that Stateside
consumers are looking for new things. “They are tired of the same old stuff-especially in apparel-from our domestic catalogues,” LaPierre says. “This is why catalogues such as Boden and Craghoppers have done so well in this market.”

Prior to this year, Craghoppers had no real presence in the US but nonetheless had a “reasonable amount” of Stateside customers, says Bulmer. “In other words, people just ordered in pounds without our advertising.” All products are shipped from the UK, but like The Book Depository, Regatta is using a US-based returns centre.

Watch your language

Launching in English-speaking markets can be a relatively low-risk option. Those choosing to adapt their website to a foreign language face the prospect of translating not just their selling content but also their search engine optimisation efforts, email newsletters, and pay-per-click advertising. LaPierre contends that it isn’t necessary to create separate sites for different territories so long as a cataloguer’s main site “can calculate all duties and taxes for any country from which it accepts orders. Consumers will be turned off from ordering again from a cataloguer,” he adds, “if they discover that taxes and duties of which they were not informed add 30 per cent more to the cost of the item.”

All the same, bicycle retailer Wiggle opted to translate its website into French, German, Spanish, and Japanese. Visitors to Wiggle.co.uk have the option of selecting one of those languages in lieu of English as well as the choice to pay in Australian, Canadian, New Zealand, or US dollars; Danish, Norwegian, or Swedish kroner; euros; or yen in addition to pounds sterling.

Wiggle translated the site to give customers the best possible experience, says web manager Steve Mills, “ and improve conversion rates from non-English-speaking customers”. The company recruited full-time staffers fluent in French, German, Spanish, and Japanese to handle the translations. Now, says Mills, those translators have become “Wiggle ambassadors for their respective countries monitoring the forums and social networks, answering customer service emails in their own language, and identifying and booking adverts in the main cycling magazines and websites”.

International expansion enables retailers to “balance regional economic highs and lows by offsetting slow growth in one country with sales growth in another region,” says ATG’s Lord. But that’s not to say every product is going to work in every market. Even though a population may look big, the customer base may not be there, he warns.

“Assess customer demand and acceptance [of your offering] on a country-by-country basis before launching in new markets,” Lord advises. “But given that the retail sector is under continuing pressure, no retailer can afford to shy away from online expansion on an international scale.” Those retailers that fail to act now may find a seemingly large new territory already crowded with the same competitors they have back home.

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