two pieces of paper with the words failure and success

Tesco vs. Topshop – cultural secret to international success

It’s a mantra the Oban Multilingual Search team live by, when you are looking at international expansion, international digital marketing is going to be an essential part of that plan. If you are looking to expand internationally, no matter where in the world that is, language is just the cherry on a much bigger cake. The secret of global brand success, as any successful business will tell you, IS cultural understanding.

The latest victim of not understanding cultural differences is British high street superpower Tesco, yet conversely, the right approach has aided Arcadia’s brand, Topshop to look at billion dollar success. So why has one failed and one succeeded?

Tesco’s American dream – Fresh & Easy stores which they had in California, Arizona and Nevada turned into a cash black hole with £1.5 billion losses and debts after just 5 years there and Chief executive Philip Clarke has conceded that the probable outcome is that Tesco will exit the US.

We are so close to our US cousins that the similarity sometimes blinds us to the differences and it’s the cultural differences that influence and drive customer behaviour. We might speak the same language, they may love One Direction, and we may watch the same movies but when it comes to “how” and “what” we buy… the differences can be vast.

So where did Tesco go wrong? Many pundits say the timing was wrong and blame it on the economy yet Topshop would surely face the same challenges? Look deeper and you will see there are cultural factors at work.

In the UK we visit grocery stores and supermarkets frequently; several times a week is usual. In the States, these trips are much less frequent. Sometimes due to location and time, other times due to wanting to save money and buy in bulk.

Most US stores are customer focused, till service and even having clerks pack their groceries is the norm so self-service tills are the inverse of this, add to that a lot of shopping and that can be a real turn off to a culture that values good service.

Topshop on the other hand has done its homework. The pricing is right for the market, cheap, fashionable and fast availability will appeal to the Americans as much as the UK. Also locality has a lot to do with success; the flagship store is in New York with others planned in the bigger, more cosmopolitan cities. This is a smart move as America is a huge market but outside of the metropolises, then jeans and t-shirts are the typical attire. Topshop know this and are fishing in the cities where the fashion conscious and money conscious swim. The result, a predicted $1 billion dollar revenue within the next 5 years.

With Brit exports success to the USA from Downton Abbey to One Direction, to Newcastle Brown Ale (I kid you not) then there is a market in the USA for the savvy UK business to take advantage of. The rule of thumb for any country – language aside, is do your homework. Know what the market does and does not like, what drives buying behaviour, what the trends are or look like being. There is a great deal to learn but you cannot do that looking from the outside in. You need someone on the ground, looking out; the perspective is very different and more accurate.

If you need any help then get in touch, cultural optimisation should be a focus for any market. If your international expansion requires some translation then again, getting the local flavour of that right will be a consideration. Direct translation rarely works and it can cause some wonderful faux pas’, as even the real giants of commerce have discovered over the years.

Get experts on hand to help you and there is little that can stop a determined, professional business from achieving international SEO success and internal expansion success.

Hayley Phoenix-Stones
Account Manager at Oban

Skip to content