Taking your brand travelling? Don’t rely on reputation

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International seems to be the way forward for UK retail business looking to grow. Marks & Spencer’s return to Europe is being celebrated by the French but what is it about the retail brand that makes it so desirable abroad?

M&S is quintessentially British, that’s what. It looks like the retailer will be trading hard on this brand attribute when it reopens its doors in France a decade after exiting the country amid a cloud of bad feeling from French Unions over job losses and French customers fretting about where they would lay their hands on British delicacies such as scones, tea and shortbread once M&S closed.

M&S’s venture into France will also be the first time the retail chain has launched a foreign language online offering, trading in Euros not Pounds.

But M&S is not the only UK retailer looking to the international arena. House of Fraser, Debenhams and John Lewis are all setting their sights overseas.

House of Fraser ecommerce director told me this week that the department store chain is looking to develop its international operations and “represent the brand better abroad”.

It currently offers delivery to 32 overseas countries, but only operates an English language site in Stirling.

Debenhams has also set its sights on growing its international business. It currently department store chain operates 61 international franchise stores in 24 countries and has created a new international ecommerce marketing manager role to drive promotions and uptake in the face of a 1.5% fall in international like-for-like sales for the six months to 26 February.

John Lewis, another quintessentially British retail brand is ramping up its international offer with foreign language sites, and plans to open stores in European countries where online take-up is good.

Sister grocer Waitrose is also at it opening in the Channel Islands, signing franchise agreements in the Middle East and exporting its branded products tot eh US and Canada.

While these brands are have strong, British identities and there is already demand for them abroad, it’s not enough just to export an identikit concept to another market and hope the British brand values will resonate.

Tesco is on track to becoming the world’s second largest retailer by 2012 but it didn’t achieve that by opening replicas of its UK stores around the globe.

The Tesco concept is very different in each market. In China, Tesco builds shopping malls that house other retailers and market stalls as well as its hypermarket style offering.

So while exporting the UK concept and trading on the British brand values will have some appeal, it’s not the key to building a strong international brand in its own right.

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