How to Succeed in Europe

Is London a viable setting for expansion?
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Posted November 19, 2018

Very recently there was a new arrival at the Westfield London shopping center in the Shepherd’s Bush area of the U.K. capital. Called Urban Revivo, it was a first for the U.K., a first for Europe, and indeed a first outside Asia. Please welcome the “Chinese Zara.”

Now let’s hold there for a moment and consider what this term means. In 2017, there was another London debutante in the shape of Reserved, this time dubbed the ‘Polish Zara.’ Like Urban Revivo, it’s a fashion store that took up residence on Oxford Street, London’s Fifth Avenue. There are two things to be noted.

Firstly, Zara is the mid-market benchmark by which all others are judged. This means that to measure up, a retailer arriving in a new market has to have a contemporary store environment, it needs to have a collection that will change frequently, be of the moment and be relatively inexpensive. If all of these things can be done, then the received wisdom is that success will follow, providing, of course, a sufficiently robust marketing campaign can be staged to get shoppers through the door in the first place.

The other point about both Reserved and Urban Revivo is that they are offshore acts and they are looking at London as a good place in which to expand. Reserved is increasingly a global act and Urban Revivo is highly successful in its home Chinese market and is now seeking to establish itself elsewhere. The point worth making is that if you talk to many U.K. retailers, they will be quick to tell you that the game is up as far as making a profit out of their own backyard is concerned. Yet there are plenty of retailers from overseas that seem to consider that they can make a go of it.

Could it be therefore that “mature” markets in Europe, such as central London, Paris or Berlin, are prime territory for fresh blood and that many of the homegrown outfits, with the exception of Zara, should be working harder? There is more to retailing than price, and retailers this side of the Pond should be looking at Zara, Primark, and to an extent H&M, to work out how they might emulate aspects of what they do. Being known as the “[insert country] Zara” may not actually be a bad thing. 

John Ryan is a journalist covering the retail sector, a role he has fulfilled for more than a decade. As well as being the European Editor of VMSD magazine, he writes for a broad range of publications in the U.K., the U.S. and Germany with a focus on in-store marketing, display and layout, as well as the business of store architecture and design. In a previous life, he was a buyer for C&A, based in London and then Düsseldorf, Germany. He lives and works in London.