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Moving overseas: the experts’ advice

The potential of global ecommerce can seem overwhelming, so where should etailers focus in 2011?

Sarah Curran

Co-founder and chief executive at designer etailer My-Wardrobe

We have extremely ambitious plans for the growth of My-Wardrobe over the next 12 months, which includes the expansion of the business into key European markets.

We’ve already seen incredibly strong organic growth from the French and German markets, as well as the Scandinavian market.

Online retailers have the luxury of being able to present their brand on a global platform, but to effectively launch your brand in a foreign market you need to spend a great deal of time understanding the customer and the culture they live in.

India is a market that is also growing very fast for both online and fashion retail as a whole and the Far East is leading innovation with advances in mobile and tablet device technology.

Andrew Robb

Chief operating officer at indie etail portal Farfetch.com

The size and growth potential of online fashion retail is well established and accepted.

In the next 12 months I think we’ll see significant innovation in three main areas: multichannel, as offline operators find ways to leverage their strengths across both channels; mobile, which will be huge if retailers can figure out the right proposition for their customers; and customer service, as online retailers strive to provide levels of service that will match or even surpass what bricks-and-mortar stores can offer. The UK is a world leader in fashion ecommerce and has a huge opportunity to expand internationally.

The big European markets, the US and emerging markets such as the Middle East and Brazil all offer potential. However, it is critical that online retailers adapt their proposition and service to meet the needs of the local market.

Martin Newman

Chief executive of etail consultancy Practicology

Consumer adoption of online shopping continues to grow at a pace in international markets, representing a huge opportunity for retailers to extend their reach.

However, only a very focused and localised proposition that includes local language sites, local payment methods and relevant product, with effective customer service in the local language, will drive sufficient demand to deliver a return on investment.

We can expect to see a raft of retailers that have yet to do so build out this capability in 2011. The relatively early adopters will drive a good uplift in sales from international markets that represent somewhere between 10% and 20% of sales for UK etailers at present, as opposed to the current benchmark of considerably less than 10% for most retailers.

Chris Griffin

Head of ecommerce at young fashion firm SuperGroup

Launching sites in Germany, France and Belgium has allowed us to experience the process behind international expansion. Germany and France in particular find UK fashion appealing and our wholesale business does well in these countries, making them a popular choice for expansion via direct online sales.

We’ve found it is vital to integrate systems and look at each country as if we were a local business rather than a UK business moving abroad. Good planning and sourcing the right people can make this process surprisingly cost effective. There is a growing support area out there for targeting international markets and the correct tools and systems are much easier to set up and co-ordinate than they were a few years ago.

Over the next 12 months, SuperGroup will investigate [opportunities for] further European sites as well as locally based sites in countries such as South Korea and Australia. Mobile commerce will continue to be in vogue, as will social media.

Sandrine Deveaux

Director of marketing and ecommerce at designer indie Matches

Rather than online businesses thinking about moving internationally they should see themselves as a global business from day one. Online allows you to reach a global audience and by tailoring service and messaging to international customers retailers can appeal to these countries.

Matches has multilingual speakers within its customer service team and aims to expand this team over the next 12 months. We are also looking to provide a full multichannel experience by enhancing the already integrated online and offline systems to offer a click-and-collect service.

The next 12 months online will be all about content, whether it be editorial-led, blogs, video or email marketing. These tools are essential to keep talking to your customers about your product.

Natalia Grabov

Analyst at research firm Verdict Research

In 2011, online fashion retailers will become increasingly innovative as the competition intensifies.

This will take the form of dedicated online promotions, customer-centric delivery and returns options and stronger alignment between online and physical stores. Retailers will increasingly strive to boost their brand across all channels, including mobile and social networking sites, to maximise brand exposure.

Peter Fitzgerald

Director of retail at search engine Google UK

As retail companies add ecommerce apps and mobile-enabled sites to their online offerings, we are seeing a surge in sales on mobile devices across the UK. Quickly making this 5% of an online business is achievable.

Businesses that are expanding internationally online with a credible proposition are making this a growth engine and a considerable part of overall sales much faster than expected.

Some fashion retailers are starting to do both and turning to more creative methods of engagement with their potential customers. More fashion retailers are looking to engage their customers in different ways, by making their site accessible and easily navigable from multiple devices at any time.

Nik Burton

Head of ecommerce at streetwear brand Bench

International markets are quickly maturing in online terms and we are looking into how we can deliver fully localised brand experiences where we sell overseas.

To do internationalisation properly presents many challenges, both in terms of updating business processes as well as the question of how it’s presented online. A one-size-fits-all approach doesn’t seem sufficient.

Simon Russell

Head of multichannel at department store chain John Lewis

We continue to focus on our expansion in the UK where, we believe, there remains really significant growth opportunities. We will continue to keep an eye on international opportunities but, for now, we have lots of exciting plans closer to home.

The key theme for our online business is centred around offering a fantastic product assortment with a great customer experience, from the website through to delivery. Success is to deliver this while working hand-in-hand with our department store business so we can offer an outstanding and seamless multichannel experience.

We’ve also launched a mobile website, strengthened the relationship with our customers through social media and grown our delivery offer, most recently by extending click-and -collect to selected Waitrose shops.

Anita Balchandani

Group strategy and business development director, Shop Direct Group

Fashion is proving to be a category that travels well internationally. Online clothing sales will grow at about 17% in the UK next year, substantially outperforming the overall online market, which is expected to grow at about 10%. The segments that will do well are: branded fashion aggregators - must-have brands and fashions from one country that are picked up eagerly by fashionistas everywhere who scour the web for the right look; sports specialists - branded sports clothing where exchange rate arbitrage drives customers to purchase from specialist websites; strong retail brands opening an online store - as retailers develop their online offering, whether it is J Crew, Topshop or Gap, they open up their shops to a global audience.

I would watch out for discount fashion retailers such as TK Maxx and M&M Direct, as they will experience the next wave of growth.

Some of the countries that are most open to cross-border remote shopping are the US, UK, Australia, Scandinavia and Germany.

Antonio Cvijanovic

Global head of retail at lifestyle brand Ben Sherman

In 2011 Ben Sherman’s online presence will increase significantly. There will be a design overhaul of Bensherman.com and a higher level of engagement across our other digital platforms.

We will be expanding the website significantly, offering international shipping on a breadth of product that you would expect from a flagship store. We will also have some surprises that I can’t reveal at the moment.

Sean McKee

Head of ecommerce at footwear chain Schuh

At Schuh we are taking a ‘toe in the water’ approach to progressing international opportunities. We currently sell to most of our international customers through the UK website, deliver to most via UPS and have recently reviewed our shipping charges to the EU and beyond. This area has a lot of potential for us.

We are interested in markets with sufficient scale and broadband penetration to allow us to achieve reasonable volume. Current sales from the UK site have been a decent indicator in terms of selection. We are targeting increased sales in France, Germany, the Netherlands and Australia and are identifying a partner to assist us in terms of payment, returns and service for these countries.

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