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Business ideas and trends from other countries
8 min read

Business ideas and trends from other countries

There’s a long history of international business trends and innovations taking place on one side of the world, before eventually arriving on our shores to take the UK by storm. Quirky inventions, clever concepts, transformative technology, problem-solving software – the list goes on!

But why do certain offerings flop, when others flourish? Is it the crowded and competitive market in the UK? A shift in customer priorities? Or an assumption by brands that they will automatically transfer internationally, without any of the crucial legwork required to understand a new market?

Here, we take a look at a selection of international business trends and ideas that are struggling to get out of the starting blocks, while celebrating the ones that have successfully charmed the UK public.

Chindogu Inventions

We couldn’t let a list like this go without referencing Chindogu – the Japanese art of inventing silly and useless gadgets to solve everyday problems. Translated literally, ‘Chindogu‘ means a valuable or priceless tool. They aren’t useful… But they aren’t completely useless either. Their creator, Kenji Kawakami, describes them as “un-useless.” Here are some examples that are yet to convince the British public…

Some of our favourites!

1. Umbrella tie

Never get caught in the rain again with this two-in-one tie and brolly.

2. Chopstick fan

For the busy noodle-lover, attach this fan to your chopsticks to cool your food while you eat.

3. Silent karaoke

For those who want to sing to Celine or Mariah at the top of their lungs (but don’t want anyone to hear them).

4. Square watermelons

Grown in a case to get them into the perfect shape for packing and shipping.

5. Butter stick

Like a pritt stick, only butter. While many can picture using one (imagine the neat coverage), it doesn’t quite replace the functionality of a knife, or the time to butter toast.

Potential new opportunities for adoption in the UK

There will always be new trends and innovations arriving onto the global market that the UK will benefit from adopting. From technological advancements such as artificial intelligence, blockchain, 5G, virtual reality, and augmented reality (to name a few!), to energy and environmental solutions for a more sustainable, greener future.

When it comes to more specific offerings that don’t necessarily solve major global issues like some of the above examples, there’s always the chance it will succeed on UK soil with the right planning such as your business plan, target audience analysis, direct-to-consumer strategy and marketing strategy.

What are the risks when introducing a product to a new market?

Even if a product’s been successful elsewhere in the world, there are always risks introducing it to a new market. The UK is a very crowded and competitive market. It’s very advanced and among the best in the world, making it very difficult to crack unless you are an exceptionally good business with a unique offer.

Let’s take fashion as an example. In a piece by, independent retail analyst Richard Hyman comments that ‘the UK fashion market is the toughest in the world, so if you’re coming over here, you need to offer something different. A lot of retailers don’t understand that. Retailing isn’t a business that easily crosses borders. It’s all about brand relationships and retailers have to work very hard to build that relationship with their customer in their home market. When they go to a different country, they are back to square one and many aren’t willing to invest the time and resource needed to build the brand in new territories.” Let’s look at some examples…

  • Gap’s Banana Republic

    … Had to close eight of its UK stores at the end of 2016, after only 8 years in the UK market. Analysts claimed it was the retailer’s poor pricing and promotion strategy which led to its failure in the UK, with the brand failing to justify its premium price points, leaving consumers with little encouragement to shift their spend from rivals.

  • Topshop Australia

    Let’s reverse an example as it works the other way, too: a British brand launching in Australia. In 2011, Topshop launched its Australian operations; however, the dynamics of the Australian retail market weren’t understood by Topshop, which led to its demise down under. In mid-2017, Topshop’s Australian operations went into voluntary administration. With H&M, Zara and Uniqlo to compete with, the fashion brand’s combination of demographics and affordability proved to be a big problem. With urban rents in Australia being some of the highest in the world, Topshop opened shop at these most expensive locations. This happened at a time when Topshop made massive investment in its e-commerce business, which meant it was running on high rentals with high operation costs. Poor stock levels also didn’t help, with a lot of potential customers struggling to find items such as jeans in common sizes.

Let’s take a look at a global fashion success story: Victoria’s Secret

This US retailer created demand for its product through heavy marketing and a select but strategic store rollout programme, making it a successful example of how to make the journey to global direct-to-consumer commerce. Before it began trading online, Victoria’s Secret (VS) was pioneering a direct selling model via its catalogue offering. Now, its digital transformation has resulted in it selling into more than 60 countries. VS’s Chief Operating Office, Ishan Patel, has shared that optimising a successful Direct To Consumer (DTC) strategy is very complex, almost like a game that you have to keep playing but to which there is no end point. It first requires an understanding of where the market is going to be and constantly striving for that. It also means knowing what the consumer mind-set is going to be, what’s happening with the competition and what adjustments need to be made.

VS’s catalogue heritage helped enable brand resonance overseas, with the brand shipping via mail order to more than 200 countries before selling online. 2014 saw VS double down on its DTC strategy and moved into five international markets – the UK, Canada, Australia, France and Germany, and then latterly Spain, offering localised language, currency and merchandise. Today, operations have expanded to more than 60 countries including India and Israel.

The global success of Victoria’s Secret proves the importance of having a DTC strategy, although never assume that a brand will automatically travel internationally. There’s work to be done in areas such as ascertaining customer base size and demand per location in order to distinguish the most lucrative markets. Localisation and customer experience remains pivotal to international success, making each new market a case-by-case approach.

Creating loyal customers in a new market isn’t easy, and their first interaction with you needs to be right from the very start in order to create trust. This trust has to be earned through smart strategy and customer care.

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