THE IDEA OF with customers all across Europe is, on one level, inherently ridiculous. Customers living within different cities within the same European country – London and Manchester, Marseilles and Paris, Rome and Naples – often have little enough in common, let alone those living in Amsterdam and Athens. Nevertheless, retailing is in key respects about speaking directly to individual customers, without taking personalisation to such a degree that costs escalate and it’s difficult or even impossible to make a profit.
One way to view the task of creating brand engagement across different European territories is to see it as being about working out how to balance this tension. That’s especially true when you consider that eventually all retailers working at scale look outside home territories for new markets. Think of the way Scandinavian retailers look to expand into Germany, where there are significant cultural similarities, and vice-versa.
Against this backdrop, it’s been fascinating to see where lessons learnt from one market are universally applicable across all territories, and where others are specifically local. As we learnt from the research conducted by Knowledge Partner Return Path, even a ‘simple’ discipline such as email marketing to customers on a database is a case of mixing up best practice, aiming for the general – ‘emotional impact’ – and the specific – working out what’s the best time to contact customers.
There are also nuances here across the type of retailer. A company such as Burberry, which sells itself as a luxury British brand, can arguably afford to ignore certain local conventions. The fact it’s foreign to other Europeans is part of its appeal and one reason why European customers would want to engage. The same doesn’t apply to other more functional retailers looking to expand abroad, at least not to the same extent.
Taking all this together, perhaps the real answer to engaging customers across Europe is, firstly, for a retailer to be clear about its USPs. Think of how Lidl has expanded into Britain and taken on the established supermarkets. It’s done so by bearing down on price and, often overlooked, creating well-maintained, fuss-free retail spaces where it’s easy for shoppers to find what they want.
The next stage is to think about localisation, and it’s here the ecommerce techniques we’ve discussed in this Dimension Report come into play. Effectively deployed, they enable the IREU Top 500 retailers simultaneously to work at scale and to localise. The key thing to recognise is that retailers need to do both.