The Secret to International Retail

The eCommerce Futures Conference recently brought together speakers from the likes of fashion retailers Coast and Hobbs and pure-plays such as sex toy specialist Lovehoney to discuss their latest endeavours in international expansion.

Matt Curry, head of eCommerce at Lovehoney, said that for eCommerce operations to work successfully in new territories it is important to “do the stuff a start-up would do”. Established retailers, he said, should not be afraid of looking at the basics of retailing when entering foreign markets such as are you communicating with your customers in their language.

Before you commit yourself to expanding into a foreign country, you must test the market. Travel to the country, hire a local expert and visit similar businesses and companies, try and get a feel for the tacit knowledge. Make sure that your business model will survive and even thrive in this new place and be certain that you are fully aware of any cultural differences between your way of life and your chosen country.

For example, McDonald’s, the fast food super company is completely unable to survive in Bolivia despite their success in most other countries, because Bolivian meals are treated reverently, prepared lovingly from scratch and form the basis of their family-oriented culture; leaving no place for convenient, fast food meals.

Right from the start, plan on using local talent. This will turn out to be more cost effective than flying your own people to a foreign country for years at a time. Obviously, to begin with, use people that you know and trust, but immediately start to find good local sources and find out about hiring local talent.

rude and unreasonable Chicken

We have all, at some stage, giggled over the ridiculous instructions and descriptions on foreign products that have obviously lost something in the translation. ‘Jerk Chicken’ has been transformed into ‘Chicken rude and unreasonable’ on one menu, and KFCs former slogan ‘finger lickin’ good’ turned into ‘eat all your fingers off’ in Chinese – not quite so tempting!

KFC in China

Even avoiding the written word altogether has its pitfalls. A famous washing powder manufacturer crafted a panel of pictures, the first showing a grubby shirt, the second showing that shirt being washed with the relevant product and in the final panel the shirt is gleaming brightly, restored to new whiteness. The campaign failed miserably because the advertiser was not told that the destination country read from right to left, rather than the Western left to right… And then there was the baby food campaign in a poor African country where a great number of the population are illiterate. To ensure that the non-readers in society could still eat their products food manufacturers begin to use bright and cheerful pictures of the food being sold on the outside of the packet, jar or can. All was well until the baby food came along; complete with a picture of a happily smiling baby. The furore and scandal caused by distressed locals who believed that the jar contained ground-up babies went on for some time and cost the manufacturer a fair sum of money in new packaging and unsold goods.

The above situations are extreme examples, but they do happen and they cost the relevant companies’ money, time and more importantly brand value. To avoid this type of situation marring your expansion into a foreign country, you must find a reputable and expert retail translation service to handle all your advertising and marketing needs who will beyond merely translating the text. Never try to save pennies by using translation software and the hope that people will know what you mean!

A translation service is perhaps not your first requirement when you decide to expand into a foreign country but choosing the right service is paramount. For good quality text that appeals directly to your target market and marks you out as a serious business, you will need people who are passionate about their work, dedicated to helping you grow your business and ready to work when you need them to.

No matter how big or small your company is, and no matter what products you sell, from cakes to sex toys to furniture, it is vital that you can communicate with your customers in their own language – you cannot succeed with poor communication between yourself and your target audience.

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