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On a global retail mission? Think digital first

Global shopping concept

Thanks to innovations in emerging technology, it has become possible to not only significantly accelerate the process of breaking into a new territory, but also to do so seamlessly without the immediate need for any kind of physical presence.
Technology has now advanced to such a degree that a retailer can in fact begin building a multinational customer base from the comfort of its country of origin. For any brand vying for universal recognition, international expansion efforts should absolutely be front of mind from day one.
Gone are the days when selling to customers worldwide meant having to have a comprehensive store network in multiple countries. Today, establishing a digital presence should unquestionably be the first consideration when entertaining the idea of – pardon the pun – setting up shop in a new jurisdiction.

In fact, road testing local appetite for a product by taking a digital-first route is both viable and practical. Is one item especially appealing to a certain demographic? How should certain items be priced? Do some products sell better than others? When a retailer knows the answer to these questions, it can then turn its attention to a bricks and mortar offering.
On the flip side, having spent the first half of my career in finance and the second half in retail, I’m all too familiar with the impact that the intricacies of the modern banking system can have on plans to operate overseas. This is one of the major barriers facing retailers looking to expand internationally.

Such complexities will have likely had an impact on the pace of globalisation in the retail sector in recent years. The introduction of various pieces of legislation designed to crack down on anti-money laundering, terrorist financing and other illicit activity (although all extremely important) has meant that even a basic task like opening a bank account in another market, for example, can be a very arduous process. 
Most banks will require businesses to have a physical footprint in the location they’re targeting before you can bank with them. For larger, more established brands with the resources to meet these requirements, this doesn’t really pose much of a problem. For up-and-coming brands however, it can be nothing short of debilitating.
Although, the real trick to suitably prepare for such eventualities early on is to integrate the technology necessary to do much of the upfront legwork for you. In short, challenges like these shouldn’t be reason enough to suppress global aspirations.
For years I’ve been fascinated and encouraged by just how quickly bricks and mortar retailers manage to nail the logistics for shipping to some of the most remote corners of the world. Yet the speed of technological change has meant that those retailers savvy enough to put their faith in a digitally-led approach can access a whole new world of customers by capitalising on first-mover-advantage.
Don’t get me wrong, starting from scratch in a new country with different cultural, economic and political conventions is no mean feat, but in order to acquire new customers, retailers shouldn’t be afraid to explore untouched regions and broaden their horizons.
Gary Rohloff is the Cofounder and Managing Director at Laybuy, a retail payments platform supporting retailers through an interest-free Buy Now, Pay Later offering. Follow him @gary_rohloff.


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