Taking time to get to know customers in a new market helps build a name and reputation, writes Chloe Rigby
It's one thing to find new customers on home turf. Here, a high street presence or an online reputation draw potential buyers to a website for the first time, while good customer service develops relationships for the future. At root, this is about giving good experiences that customers tell each other about. In short, it’s word of mouth.
But is generating that same word of mouth so different overseas? Certainly the task is made more challenging by the cultural and language differences of new markets. But first-hand evidence that it is possible comes from the wide variety of international brands that have found success in the UK market, from Amazon to Vente Privée.
Among them is homewares brand Wayfair . The US company trades in five markets – its US home, Canada, Australia, Germany and the UK. It consolidated a number of brands trading in the UK under the Wayfair.co.uk name in autumn 2011, and over the following 12 months it made gross sales of more than £20 million in the UK and welcomes more than 900,000 website visitors a month.
Co-founder and chief executive Niraj Shah says that for his company engaging customers in a new market starts with online advertising. That leads people to the website and to browse its products. “Just through providing a great selection and very good service we’ll aim to start building our customer base one customer at a time,” says Shah. “Rather than just doing broadbased advertising, you’re doing it with customers who are buying items so they can relate to their friends and colleagues how they found the experience – that’s a big piece of how we get started.”
From there, he says, Wayfair will typically start to focus on getting to know the local press and engaging in PR activity, before widening the scope into offline advertising and finally moving into brand advertising. “In the US we have got to the point where we are now doing television advertising,” he says. “In the UK as we continue to grow you’ll see us not only doing online advertising but TV too at some point.”BE WHERE CUTOMERS ARE
That’s important for the odds are that it won’t be on a sleek and beautifully translated webshop that new overseas customers first discover a UK retailer. They’re more likely to do that when they type product details or categories into a search engine, triggering online advertisements, both PPC and banner ads, as well as bringing together mentions of the retailer on local media, whether that’s traditional newspapers and TV, social media or blogs.
Building that international presence on search engines, therefore, is key to being found in new markets. At heart, this is about building a reputation, and the mechanics of this may well be different from the UK. For example, Google is by far the biggest player in the US and UK search engine markets, with more than 90 per cent of the market. But that’s not true when it comes to other markets, where other search engines are more important. Research is vital. “Don’t assume,” says Andrew McClelland, managing director of etail trade association IMRG , “that just because a search engine has a large market share in the UK that will be the case in all the markets.”
McClelland advises making sure that the search terms fit the new territory. Look at web analytics to see what search terms lead visitors to a website, he suggests. “Then you can start playing around with SEO (search engine optimisation) to take those into account, and get more efficient. You can also start looking at including local terms in your adword spend.”
But, he adds: “A note of caution: don’t automatically assume a straight translation of a product name from English to, say, French means the same. Even between the UK and the US there’s the difference between trousers and pants – and it’s understanding some of those cultural differences.” Here he advises either using a specialist marketing agency to translate, or a local language speaker who understands cultural nuances to develop search terms in the first place.TUNE IN TO DIFFERENT CULTURES
Just as search terms may vary from market to market, so a successful move into new markets will reflect the different ways in which local consumers want to shop and the different messages that will engage them. Paul Bolton of the Ivis Group says that while there might be interest in the Britishness of UK retailers’ range, this must be balanced with an understanding of local consumers’ tastes.
“I think if you don’t have that balance your growth is going to be fairly short lived,” says Ivis, “because a lot of consumers, particularly in south-east Asia, do like to have an element of things that are more relevant to them and personalised to their style of shopping.” That might mean adjusting the design of a website, the layout of a store or the product mix. “The more successful retailers mix more localised products with their standard offering so there is a blending of the best of both worlds.
Bolton points to adjustments that British DIY chain B&Q made when it moved into China. “Their brand was all about ‘do it yourself’ but no-one in China understood what that was. They had to change it to ‘we can help you to do it’. It wasn’t about leaving you on your own but giving advice, support and guidance on how to do these things. There was a slight shift in the message and the way they were selling the goods – people needed consultation, guidance in terms of what they were buying. Your brand can still be strong but you do need to tailor it to fit the local market.”KEEP IT SOCIAL
Cultural differences also matter when it comes to communicating with customers. Many aspects of that communication can be kept consistent from country to country. Steve Hurn, of Reevoo, says ratings and reviews have universal appeal, while the insights they can generate into customers can prove useful to businesses moving into new markets. “We see no difference between folk in India, or in Japan or China or the US wanting to understand what they’re buying,” says Hurn, who is chief executive of the social commerce business. “They may well read literature from the company they’re buying from or advertising campaigns or gimmicks, but there is one commonality that everyone wants to read reviews from confirmed purchasers of those products and to ask questions about the products they’re thinking of buying.” It goes without saying, he adds, that those reviews must be in the local language.
However, other aspects of social commerce vary more profoundly from market to market. “Customers in Thailand and Malaysia are very sociable and their whole approach to shopping is about how social the experience is,” says the Ivis Group’s Bolton. “They like to be able to chat with friends on Facebook while they’re on your web page. They like to be able to see not just a rating or review on a product but also to see how many people have bought it or are buying it today. Everything becomes interactive, it’s social as an experience.”
But, he counsels, what is true for one market may be very different in another.
“If you go to somewhere like China, people don’t like to see how many people have bought it. If too many people have bought it you won’t sell as many – but if you don’t tell them 1,000 other people have bought it they wouldn’t know.”
As more people in emerging markets start to become familiar with online shopping, Bolton thinks they will start to favour experiences that reflect the way they like to shop. “When Amazon started people thought it wasn’t so easy to use but they wanted to buy online so used what was there,” he says. “That’s a little bit where we are with some of the Asian markets. But very rapidly they’re starting to place demands on some of the retailers to be more adaptive to those local ways of shopping.”VARY THE MEDIUM (AS WELL AS THE MESSAGE)
As well as adapting to local shopping habits, traders also do well to consider that people in different countries use technology in different ways. UK consumers are heavy users of desktop and laptop computers. Recent Ofcom research found that 51 per cent of UK consumers use a laptop to access the internet most often, while 37 per cent use a desktop computer and six per cent a smartphone. But the proportions can be very different in other countries. In Italy, for example, smartphone usage is particularly high, while in Asia, Africa and South America consumers may well have access the internet through a smartphone rather than a PC connection. “A lot of consumers in those markets are starting on mobile, not having mobile as a secondary option,” says Bolton. That means mobile strategies must often be more of a priority in international markets than they are at home.
Phil Gault, director of strategy at Sponge , agrees. He cites a Mobify study that suggests that where 31 per cent of UK and US retail website traffic comes from mobile, it’s closer to half in Australia (47 per cent). And while only 11 per cent of German traffic is from mobile, in Brazil, where there’s limited wired internet infrastructure, the figure is 40 per cent. That informs the way that retailers choose to communicate with their local customers. Mobile users are more likely to value a relevant text message within the context of an ongoing relationship over an email, says Gault, while mobile-optimised sites are likely to do better than local incumbents because they are easier to use.
Sponge recently built an m-commerce site for Evans Cycles with a brief to enable international sales in markets where they don’t have shops. “As you’d expect,” says Gault, “the bulk of the traffic does come from the UK. But over the course of the last four to five months there have been something like 100,000 visits from the States, 30,000 from Japan and 28,000 from Australia.
“I think a lot of it – and a key advantage of making sure the site is properly optimised for mobile – is mobile search. There are increasing numbers of people searching for stuff via their mobile phone and if you’ve got a properly optimised site you’ll be higher up the rankings. When people click on you they’re going to get a more satisfactory experience and they’re more likely to buy from you.”AND FINALLY… EXPECT THE UNEXPECTED
Just because a retailer has a certain image in the UK doesn’t mean that a new group of customers will come to the same conclusions. Retailers must therefore stay open to adapting their messages to these new markets. IMRG’s McClelland says one UK fashion retailer found that in different territories it became known for its footwear range rather than its clothing. “It’s understanding that just because you’re seen in a certain way in the UK doesn’t mean you’ll be seen in the same way in any one of a number of territories that you might decide to go into.”
Just as flexibility is required in this case, so too it will also serve retailers in a host of ways when moving into new markets. When the reality varies from expectations, it’s time to adjust the strategy. But in the final analysis, getting to know a new group of consumers and reflecting the reality they’d like to see, can be a highly profitable approach.Speaking from Experience
GETTING TO KNOW NEW MARKETS
“I think retailers need to spend time really getting a feel for the market they want to enter. The more you understand up front what is involved and what the challenges might be, the better off you are. But the truth is that like anything else you don’t know what the challenges will be.”Niraj Shah, chief executive and co-founder, Wayfair
“Each market has nuances in the way people shop. What’s important is to develop trust in your brand, and confidence in buying from you. Even if you keep your brand identity the same, some of the behaviours in your online experience definitely need to change.”Paul Bolton, director of product and corporate strategy, Ivis Group
UNIVERSAL TEXT TRUTHS
“The general truth is that if your text message is offering something of genuine value or utility and is delivered in a contextually relevant way and is personalised as far as possible, you’ll get a good response in all territories.”Phil Gault, director of strategy, Sponge