Waving Germany and England Flag

The English are coming: Why English brands may be more likely to succeed in Germany than British ones

The UK undoubtedly has a presence on the international stage; however, we have perhaps wrongly assumed that ‘Britishness’ is a concept that will be universally understood and applied.

We don’t know, for instance, whether UK brands are identified as British or as English, the largest constituent country by size and population.

As UK citizens, we are clear about the geographic and constitutional differences, if not always in total agreement on the different cultural identities. We often see the labels ‘Made in England’ and ‘Made in Britain’ as synonymous. But what about fashion customers outside the UK who don’t have English as their first language?

Oban International ran a survey across 1000 fashion shoppers in 10 international markets to find out if these customers would describe UK fashion brands as British or English and to understand individual country perceptions of UK fashion brands and any barriers to purchase.

British or English Pie Chart

While a clear majority of the people surveyed would use the term ‘British’, a third said they would use the term ‘English’ when talking about fashion brands from the UK.

When analysing the data by country, some interesting variations emerged.

British or English Bar Graph

In Germany, consumers say they are much more likely to refer to ‘English’ than ‘British’ brands, compared with the overall picture.

Looking specifically at fashion, this is underscored by the contrasting search volumes for translated terms of ‘British Fashion’ versus ‘English Fashion’ with almost double the number of searches made for the latter. When it comes to ‘British Shoes’ versus ‘English shoes’ the difference is even greater, with ‘English shoes’ attracting 155% more searches.

We expect the trend for English terms to increase even further as voice search rises in popularity. As it is the vernacular way of referring to the UK, and there would be no prompts for British alternatives to sway the searcher, English search terms are likely to increase domination in Germany.

Margarete, a German member of our LIME (Local In-Market Expert) network, explains this phenomenon to us:

“Germans are aware of British culture but regard it as dominated by England. The economic, political and cultural heart of the country is London, and we learn English at school.

Germans associate Britishness more with the British Empire and with everything related to traditional, conservative, upper-class lifestyles, manners and clothes… Not necessarily negative, but not associated with anything young, modern or trendy.

Therefore, if we are shopping for fashion products and brands, we are far more likely to use the word ‘English’ in our search.”


Desirable products

Irrespective of whether English or British is the search term, we still have some work to do in building the desirability of our fashion brands in Germany. Germans rated English/British fashion goods fourth for desirability, behind Italy, the US and France; a distinct contrast to a country like Australia that rated UK fashion brands second for desirability.

Fashion Desirability by Country Germany Australia


Positive changes

There were very few concerns about UK product quality, with less than 10% of German respondents citing quality concerns.

Our survey then addressed some of the issues consumers have identified as posing obstacles to purchasing fashion goods from the UK. Shipping costs and the related problems of returns and shipping time are significant concerns for German consumers, more so than any of the other nine countries surveyed, which includes markets much further away from the UK, such as Mexico and Japan.

German shopping obstacles

Why are these concerns more prevalent in Germany? Our survey suggests this is down to a mix of high consumer expectations and some requirement from UK brands to improve their shipping and return processes, as well as communicating them better to German customers.

Sizing is also a cause for concern with 30% of German respondents saying sizing differences put them off buying UK fashion brands. Eight out of the ten markets surveyed took a similar view, and it is also a problem experienced more closely to home, as almost 40% of UK respondents said consistent sizing of UK fashion was also a concern for them.


Three key areas for international fashion retailers selling in Germany to consider:

  1. The dominance of English over British as a search term
  • Test whether promoting your brand’s English origins increases your search volume and sales opportunities.
  • Ensure that you are not merely translating ‘British’ and ‘English’ – instead, understand where terms are interchangeable and how they are used in specific vertical consumer fashion searches.
  1. Shoppers in Germany are particularly vocal about UK shipping costs being a significant barrier to purchasing UK fashion
  • Consider how shipping, returns and payment options meet local market demands and work with experts to create shipping options that are attractive to German consumers and communicate them clearly.
  1. 30% are concerned about sizing
  • If customers are confident a product will fit, they become less worried about how to send it back. Consistent sizing is good news for profitability as well as customer confidence. It is worth putting specific product sizes in the product details, especially where you sell products from a variety of suppliers who don’t size consistently.

Finally, local language customer support, available at appropriate local times, helps provide reassurance and can answer customer questions promptly and adeptly.

To find out how we can help you create insightfully, culturalised international digital campaigns get in touch.

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