EDITORIAL J.Crew, Abercrombie and Uterque join brands using marketplaces to grow internationally – Brexit Britain take note

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The number of fashion retailers using marketplaces is growing rapidly, as retailers not only see their customers increasingly moving to these sites to buy apparel, but also as they look to expand their geographical reach and find new customers. And UK retailers needing to find new non-European markets post-Brexit need this more than anyone.

Zara sibling Uterque joins a host of Spanish brands now using Tmall to reach into China – in this instance testing the water and growing its base before opening physical stores – while Abercrombie & Fitch celebrates a year on the same Chinese marketplace with physical retail event that showcases just how online and in-store can work together to great effect.

Staying in China, Italian luxury brand Rinascente is increasing its online presence by rolling out its ‘retail concierge’ service currently found on WhatsApp to WeChat to increase its consumer penetration in the region.

And not to be out done, US retailers J.Crew Mercantile has launched on the rapidly growing Amazon Fashion sub-site in the US.

Together these showcase how far fashion and marketplaces have come. Driven by shoppers love of marketplaces for online, especially in China, fashion and apparel retailers are seeing that to expand and to meet demand they have to start to use these sites.

China leads the way, with its shoppers routinely turning to marketplaces – Alibaba and Tmall largely – to buy everything. In fact, there are some 500 million users of Tmall from 24 countries looking at 150,000 brands, according to DMR, which is why fashion retailers from the US and Europe are so keen to get on it.

And the success Uterque is hoping for can be seen in action, with Abercrombie & Fitching celebrating a year on the site. What is interesting is that, while being on Tmall has certainly given A&F market penetration and brand awareness – enough to also roll out more physical stores in the China – it has also generated a vast amount of data.

So rich is the sales data from Tmall, it has helped refine and redefine how A&F does everything from marketing to inventory planning to merchandising – across the web, marketplaces and stores.

And this is perhaps the true value of marketplace selling for big retailers and brands tapping into new geographic markets: it offers the ability to get the measure of that market and allied regional markets. This sort of information is vital to overseas expansion, as it show just what it does and doesn’t deliver and how to make it work.

The differences between Asian markets and those of Europe can, in terms of culture and taste, be profound, but you don’t know how profound (or not) until you get there. Selling through marketplaces such as Tmall are invaluable as they not only help you relatively rapidly garner that information, but also to sell things while you do it.

And this should be of particular interest to UK retailers. As the prospect of a no-deal Brexit looks more likely, not to mention the likelihood that whatever Brexit the UK gets having detrimental trade impacts on the UK, the need to understand markets such as China has never been more important.

The hoopla around deals to open up trade between the UK and China are great – as are efforts to tap into former Commonwealth markets – but they are just talk. The practicalities of doing so, not least understanding what does and doesn’t sell in those markets, is missing. Opening up trade now on marketplaces is the key to starting to generate the data needed to see if, indeed, these markets can work for UK retailers, as well as the practicalities of what sells, how to get it there and how to manage the process.

The list of reasons why retailers need to use marketplaces is already long – now, for the UK at least, it offers a chance to get an insight into how they may yet sell overseas post Brexit.

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