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What is International Retailing?
Retail internationalization is the transfer of retail operations outside the home market. It involves the international transfer of retail concepts, management skills, technology and even the buying function.
Based on this, a definition for retail internationalization can be as follows:
“the process of a retailer transferring its retail operations, concepts, management expertise, technology and/or buying function across nationals borders”.
Factors involved in International Retailing
A careful examination of the definition for international retailing reveals certain concepts which are key to the process of international retailing. These include operations, concepts, management expertise, technology and buying.
Retail internationalization is the expansion of a retailer’s operations into a foreign market. The store format may or may not be similar to that in the home market. Identical operations may well trade under a different brand than that operated in the domestic market. This decision is largely dependent upon the method of market entry. On the acquisition of a foreign retail operation, the new owner may retain the original brand if it is a respected brand.
For example, in 1999 Wal-Mart (the retail giant) bought UK grocery chain ASDA and retained the original ASDA brand. When a retailer enters a new market by franchise, it may transfer an established domestic brand. Sometimes, a new foreign brand is perceived as more fashionable than its competitors.
Retail concepts lay emphasis on innovations in the industry. The self service concept first emerged in California in 1912. Later, the concept was followed in a number of international markets in the next two decades. Similarly, the convenience store format which originated in USA in 1920s was taken up in Europe in the 1970s. Now, the focus in on globalization. The retail concept currently by operated by retailers may also become successful in a foreign market.
The internationalization of “the body shops” popularized the idea of environmentally sensitive products. The success of such concepts have been adopted by competitors spawning of similar retail offers in natural toiletries and cosmetics.
3. Management expertise
The transfer of concepts is linked with the internationalization of management expertise. This encompassed the internationalization of skills and techniques used in the management of the business. Formation of alliances is an important means of transferring management functions. Retail alliances are prompted by operational synergies, buying economies of scale, increased retailer power over manufacturer, the development of retailer own labels and joint defense building against the market entry of foreign competitors.
International retail alliances are the direct outcome of growing globalization. Successful alliance management rests on close cooperation, communication, synergistic performance measures and an agreement to common objectives.
Retailers who operate internationally require the use of technology advances. Use IT in central management of retail operations has improved its decision making in areas such as finance, personnel and logistics. Technologies such as EPOS (Electronic Point of Sale) are also used at operational levels of retail stores.
Generally, internationalization will employ relatively advanced technology. It is preferable for retailers to move into a market where they have a technological advantage. Technological advantage in turn, would confer a competitive advantage over indigenous retailers.
The proportion of consumer expenditure on retail is considerably important. As the population becomes more wealthy a greater proportion of income is spent on non-essentials. Only a small percentage of total spend goes on food and clothing. A higher share of spending power is directed towards non-essentials such as holidays and leisure activities. In retail operations the function of buying is indeed sourcing. Sourcing has had the greatest impact in terms of internationalization.
Alliances are formed to attain efficiency and leverage in sourcing. International retailers use their collective influence with suppliers to reduce prices and improve quality. For example, the European alliance EMD has stated exerting the combined purchasing power of its members as its primary objective.
Reason for Internationalization of retailing
Hollander proposes five reasons for retail internalization.
- Inadvertent internationalization,
- Non-commercial motives,
- Commercial objectives,
- Government regulations,
- Capitalizing on existing or potential sales opportunities.
1. Inadvertent internationalization: Inadvertent internationalization is due to political instability. Sometimes, changes in the demarcation of national borders take place. This may mean a retail company is operating in a different market although its stores have not physically moved. Changes in Eastern Europe are the examples of this kind. The US retailer KMart entered Czechoslovakia. Within a year it found itself operating in two district markets, the Czech and Slovak republics.
2. Non-commercial reasons: Non-commercial reasons of political, personal, ethical or social responsibility have motivated retailers to move into foreign markets. For example, retailers foray into markets for reasons of social and environmental responsibility. Notably, the Body Shop’s “trade not aid” sourcing policy helped develop infrastructures in order to stabilize economics.
3. Commercial objectives: It include entering the market which gives retailers competitive edge. Gaining important market knowledge before moving in on a larger scale learning about innovations may be other commercial objectives of retail internationalization.
4. Government regulations: Government regulations influence the choice of market by retailers. It is not a prerequisite to internationalization. Retailers prefer the markets with fewer restrictions on their growth. Severe regulations at home push retailers into the international arena. Loi Royer in France severely restricted the development of large out of town stores. As a result the French hypermarkets turned to less restrictive markets to continue their expansion.
5. Growth potential: Retailers seek the best growth potential possible. If they perceive profitable opportunities in overseas markets, they are likely to capitalize on them.