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Consistency is key to global brand success

Brands are known, and judged, by their ability to offer positive and consistent experiences to customers no matter where they are in the world. However, on recent trips to Dubai, New York and Hong Kong I was struck by the differences in retail delivery by brands that have recently opened stores in these key destinations.

GENERAL MERCHANDISE

Consistency is key to global brand success

Brands are known, and judged, by their ability to offer positive and consistent experiences to customers no matter where they are in the world. However, on recent trips to Dubai, New York and Hong Kong I was struck by the differences in retail delivery by brands that have recently opened stores in these key destinations.

Retailers enter new markets through a variety of different routes. For some, direct ownership is the best way to reach customers because it offers more control and financial reward. However, it is by no means the easiest method, nor is it even possible in some locations. Franchising can help brands share the commitment and risk of expansion, with local partners building the infrastructure and managing the brand on the ground. Other ‘behind the scenes’ routes include store concessions and wholesale arrangements.

Depending on the ownership model, store teams can receive different levels of contact and support. It is often the case that directly owned and operated stores enjoy the best support from the brand centrally, with communications and an internal support infrastructure being established as part of the retail management process.

For some retailers, however, it appears that when a store is in another country, it becomes less connected to the brand, with subtle but important degradations in the quality of retail execution and customer experience.

To succeed, brands must therefore ensure that delivery of the concept is true to the home country; in other words, they must strive for consistency while also being flexible to local consumer needs. Looking beyond the obvious store design and product ranges can reveal differences in how the brand is executed and managed in store, whether through visual merchandising, marketing activity and customer services.

This is something that has been successfully demonstrated by the likes of Burberry, Coach and Apple, which have expanded into Dubai, New York and Hong Kong and all achieved high levels of consistency in the three pillars of delivery – store presentation, customer service and retail operations. However, there are also brands that, in my opinion, fail to match the experience offered in the home country notably Topshop in Dubai.

What is clear is if brands are to establish themselves overseas, they must offer continuing support to store teams that goes beyond the initial opening. Adopting a narrow ‘launch and leave’ approach will simply result in store teams – and brands – being vulnerable to costly mistakes along the way.

There are many UK retailers who in recent times have rapidly gained a foothold overseas, including Jack Wills, Fred Perry, Fat Face, and The White Company etc. However, for all companies, investment must be seen over the long term – and it will be the quality of on-going support that makes all the difference to successful commercial performance.

My experience shows that unless brand policy and retail communications are updated and carefully translated for local users they will have limited impact. Training, development and coaching for store teams must also be adapted to reflect cultural considerations to ensure a good connection with the audience in format, content and style. Nothing should be taken for granted, and new stores may even close down, as Abercrombie and Fritch learned in Australia.

The real test for retailers is not simply launching a new store but delivering a brand experience over the long-term and this can only be achieved with effective support for the store team, great communications and careful attention to detail in retail execution.

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