The Next Wave of International Retailers?

Posted on Posted in Retail Trends

Six months ago or so, I made a case in “Inside Retail” to end “Island Thinking”. Our shores are under attack from global retailers, I wrote, who are arriving like gleeful pirates, both digitally and physically. And we can either ignore the invasion, or fight fire with fire and join the new, internationalised world of retail.

Since that time, the pace has picked up, and more brands have announced their intention to plant a physical flag in Australian soil. Williams-Sonoma is set to open, Agent Provocateur has just got its gear off with a new DJ’s store-in-store, and Hollister is on its way. In terms of online, I also keep hearing that Australia is many retailers’ “second best market” after their home country.

Perhaps it’s my white Anglo-Saxon heritage, but my automatic assumption has been that the influx is (and will continue to be) almost exclusively from the US and UK. While that’s true to an extent, it is not the full story, and it’s certainly not where things are headed.

Colliers International Research states that 60% of the retail “pirates” who are establishing bricks and mortar outposts are from those countries. But the other 40% are from a United Nations of retailers – Canada, Finland, Germany, Israel, Japan, Spain (Zara, of course), South Korea, and Sweden.

And here’s where it gets really interesting. Simon Hill, National Director of Colliers International, has just returned from some years in Asia, and believes that the next wave of merchants will come from our near North, not just traditional Western retail markets. That challenged my preconceptions. But when you drill down, it makes sense.

After all, in consumer goods, we have already seen the rise of new Asian manufacturers. Korea’s Samsung is arguably the coolest electronics brand in the world and LG is also turning heads. Country-mate Hyundai has set new standards for a “value” car. We are also starting to witness a deluge of Chinese brands hitting Australia, like HTC, Huawei, Haier and Great Wall Motors.

Culturally too, Asia is becoming an epicentre of style. Shinjuku, Ginza and Omotesando in Tokyo, plus of course “Gangnam Style” from Seoul are just as strong an influence on today’s youth as Camden Markets in London, or Williamsburg in New York.

Asia has already stepped into the spotlight on the world retail stage. Witness Uniqlo, which aims to have 1,000 stores in China alone, or Forever 21, the massively successful fast fashion store now considered to be a US retailer, but actually started by a Korean American couple.

So which brands might be on their way here from Asia? Leading the charge will be the Japanese, with Uniqlo and Muji, plus higher end niche fashion brands such as Egoist, Issey Miyake and Kenzo. Next will be the Koreans – with brands like Dangoon, Being Girl and Celli Girl. And not far behind will be the Chinese with the likes of 361 Degrees and Li-Ning sports labels and stores.

So while our retail benchmarks have always flown the Stars & Stripes and the Union Jack, we should start to get familiar with the Rising Sun from Japan, the “Taegeukgi” from Korea and the Five-Star Red Flag from China. Because these pirates will also be flying the “Skull & Crossbones” as they make their way to our shores.

Better be ready.

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